Wave Propagation


Of the many subjects that technician's are expected to know, probably the one least susceptible to change is the theory of wave propagation . The basic principles that enable waves to be propagated (transmitted) through space are the same today as they were 70 years ago.

One would think, then, that a thorough understanding of these principles is a relatively simple task. For the electrical engineer or the individual with a natural curiosity for the unknown, it is indeed a simple task. Most technicians, however, tend to view wave-propagation as something complex and confusing, and would just as soon see this this subject completely disappear from training manuals.

This attitude undoubtedly stems from the fact that wave- propagation is an invisible force that cannot be detected by the sense of sight or touch. Understanding wave propagation requires the use of the imagination to visualize the associated concepts and how they are used in practical application. These tutorials will help you to visualize and understand those concepts.

Through ample use of illustrations and a step-by-step transition from the simple to the complex, we will help you develop a better understanding of wave-propagation. In this section, we will discuss propagation theory on an introductory level, without going into the technical details that concern the engineer. However, you must still use thought and imagination to understand the new ideas and concepts as they are presented.

To understand radio wave propagation, you must first learn what wave propagation is and some of the basic physics or properties that affect propagation. Many of these properties are common everyday occurrences, with which you may aready be familiar with.


Early man was quick to recognize the need to communicate beyond the range of the human voice. To satisfy this need, he developed alternate methods of communication, such as hand gestures, beating on a hollow log, and smoke signals.

Although these methods were effective, they were still greatly limited in range. Eventually, the range limitations were overcome by the development of courier and postal systems;but there was then a problem of speed.

For centuries the time required for the delivery of a messagedepended on the speed of a horse. During the latter part of the 19th century, both distance and time limitations were largely overcome.

The invention of the telegraph made possible instantaneous communication over long wires. Then a short time later, man discovered how to transmit messages in the form of RADIO WAVES.

Radio waves are propagated. PROPAGATION means "movement through a medium." This is most easily illustrated by light rays. When a light is turned on in a darkened room, light rays travel from the light bulb throughout the room. When a flashlight is turned on, light rays also radiate from its bulb, but are focused into a narrow beam.

You can use these examples to picture how radio waves propagate. Like the light in the room, radio waves may spread out in all directions. They can also be focused (concentrated) like the flashlight, depending upon the need.

Radio waves are a form of radiant energy, similar to light and heat. Although they can neither be seen nor felt, their presence can be detected through the use of sensitive measuring devices. The speed at which both forms of waves travel is the same; they both travel at the speed of light.

You may wonder why you can see light but not radio waves, which consist of the same form of energy as light. The reason is that you can only "see" what your eyes can detect. Your eyes can detect radiant energy only within a fixed range of frequencies. Since the frequencies of radio waves are below the frequencies your eyes can detect, you cannot see radio waves.

The theory of wave propagation that we discussed in this tutorial applies to a wide range of electronic equipment, such as radar, navigation, detection, and communication equipment.

Principles of Wave motion

Transverse-waves and longitudinal waves

Medium and terms used in wave motion

Wave motion characteristics

Reflection and Refraction of waves

Diffraction and the doppler effect

Sound waves and requirements for sound

Sound-wave-terms: characteristics, pitch, and intensity of sound.

Sound Quality and elasticity, density, and velocity of transmission

Acoustics: echos, refractions, reverberance, interference, resonance, and noise.

Propagation-of-light: light waves, propagation of light and the electromagnetic theory of light

Frequencies-and-color: light wavelengths, properties of light, luminous bodies and light and color

Reflection-of-light: speed, reflection, and refraction of light

Absorption-of-light, comparison of light waves with sound waves, and the electromagnetic spectrum

Electromagnetic-waves and the basic antenna.

Electromagnetic-wave-components and the electric field

Magnetic-fields: combination of the electric and magnetic fields

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