Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
'Stratovision' sounds about as serious as 'Wonkavision,' but unlike the candy maker's fictional
machine that transported chocolate bars across the room, Stratovision was in fact
a serious proposal. It was an early form of satellite television. Since orbiting
communications satellites would not be practical for another decade, Westinghouse
devised a system in 1945 using aircraft flying at high altitude to relay television
signals. Engineers calculated that 14 airplanes circling at 25,000 feet could provide
coverage to 78% of the country. By 1950 they had a working system, but needless
to say (because nobody has ever heard of it... except you, now), the concept ultimately
did not pan out. It was not because the system failed to work as designed, but because
there was not enough demand for coast-to-coast broadcasts at the time. Stratovision
is mentioned in this "On the Air: The Story of Broadcasting" video
(begins at about 21:00).
The experimental Stratovision station (a modified B-29). flying
at 25,000 feet over the Pittsburgh area, rebroadcast telecast picked up from the
east coast television network over an estimated area 525 miles in diameter. Programs
from the ground stations are picked up on the antenna projecting above the tail.
and rebroadcast from the long. mast-like antenna extending down from the nose of
Fourteen planes would provide adequate coverage for approximately 78% of the
people in the U.S.A.
Although Stratovision experiments in the United States have been suspended temporarily,
there are many TV authorities who believe it is the only answer to truly adequate
"nationwide" video coverage - including the small towns and rural areas as well
as the large metropolitan centers of the country. Five years ago (1945), the Westinghouse
Electric Corporation, in cooperation with The Glenn L. Martin Company, announced
the intention of developing this system in the United States.
What is Stratovision?
It is airborne television-transmission relay from planes in motion at high altitudes.
By raising the broadcasting antenna to greater heights, relatively large improvements
in v.h.f. (very-high frequency) and u.h.f. (ultra-high frequency) transmission range
may be obtained. "Radio" horizon distances, of course, are largely dependent upon
atmospheric conditions. A transmitting antenna 30,000 feet above the earth's surface
has a "line of sight" distance to the horizon of 211 miles, and this distance roughly
represents the service area of such a v.h.f. or u.h.f, transmitting antenna. Assuming
true spherical earth conditions, calculations indicate that television coverage
over this large distance is attainable with powers equivalent to those used in present-day
commercial television stations.
A transmitter operating at 600 megacycles, airborne 30,000 feet above the surface
of the earth, with an effective radiated power of 25 kw. assumed, will achieve a
field intensity of 2 millivolts per meter for a 3D-foot high receiving antenna,
out to 238 miles. This distance represents the coverage from an airborne station
over the earth.
Minimum values of field intensity occur at several points closer to the transmitter
and fall below the value of two mv/m. required for service. These minimums will
not occur at the same distances for a different receiving antenna height. This makes
it possible to increase the field intensity at any location by changing (either
raising or lowering) the receiving antenna by a few feet. Energy at the receiving
antenna arrives from the transmitting antenna over two paths - a direct path and
a reflected path. Thus, the net energy at the receiving antenna is a vectorial addition
of these two components. As the distance between transmitter and receiver is changed
(or the antenna heights are changed), the changing vectorial relationship produces
nulls and maximums. There are as many nulls between the transmitter and its horizon
as the number of half-wavelengths that the receiving antenna is above ground. It
is desirable to reduce the receiving antenna height as the receiver is moved closer
to the transmitter, even to the point of laying it close to the ground when the
location is near the transmitter.
Naturally, terrain factors influence the coverage obtained, and these factors
have a greater attenuative effect in the u.h.f. television band than in the v.h.f.
1) C. E. Nobles, originator of the Stratovision system for airborne
television and frequency modulation transmission, monitors the television signal
received and transmitted from the Stratovision airplane. Ben Carroll (shown at right),
Martin Stratovision project engineer, listens at the sound monitoring position.
2) C. E. Nobles at the twin video monitoring boards in the experimental
Stratovision airplane. The boards are so arranged that each can be used separately
to monitor the video signal coming to the plane or the signal being transmitted
by the plane, or they may be used together so that the signal picked up by the plane
appears on one screen while the plane's broadcasted video signal is monitored on
the other. The TV picture is viewed on the large screen.
3) Angus A. Macdonald and Larry Smith, Westinghouse engineers,
record current and voltage readings of the 1000 watt transmitter used to rebroadcast
frequency modulation sound signals from the airplane. This transmitter plus the
TV transmitter and the other equipment aboard the plane generated so much heat in
early flight tests that a refrigeration system, capable of air conditioning a seven
room house, was installed promptly.
The Westinghouse and Glenn Martin companies undertook two series of flight tests
to study the propagation and plane motion effects. The first of these studies was
made with a twin-engine PV-2 aircraft, capable of operation at 25,000 feet. (This
ship was by no means of the type suitable for day-to-day broadcasting but was quite
suitable for propagation measurements.)
Two transmitters were installed in the unpressurized cabin of this ship. A 250-watt
transmitter, operating on 107.5 mc., and a 5 kw. (peak of pulse) transmitter operating
at 514 mc., were flown at various altitudes away from Baltimore (Maryland), and
continuous recordings of field intensity were made at locations ranging from Norfolk
(Virginia), to Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), and Boston (Massachusetts).
During the one-year flight-test period using PV-2, measured field intensities
were compared with calculated values and effects of motion of the plane upon the
pulsed waveform of the 500 mc. transmitter were studied. No effects of the motion
of the plane were found except for the expected variation of field intensity as
the distance changed. Measured field intensities agreed with calculated values reasonably
well when the receiving antenna site approached a true spherical earth condition.
Departure below predicted values was noted when the receiving antenna was down behind
a hill. In a comparison study of measured and calculated values when the receiving
antenna was set up on a beach at Norfolk (Virginia) - the total path between transmitter
and receiver being over the waters of Chesapeake Bay - it was noted that even with
this ideal "spherical earth" location, the minimums were never as deep as calculated.
As a result of these tests, the two companies were encouraged to equip a .more
suitable plane for actual picture transmission in accordance with commercial television
A complete set of modern TV transmission equipment was built and installed in
a B-29 "Super Fortress" with all military armament removed to make room for the
TV equipment. This aircraft is a pressurized, four-engine, high-altitude airplane
capable of operation at 30,000 feet.
Television equipment installed in this ship consisted of receivers capable of
receiving standard commercial television stations or a special 547.5 mc. relay link
from the Westinghouse studios in Baltimore (Maryland). Transmitting equipment capable
of emitting 5 kw. of video and 1 kw. of sound on TV Channel 6 (82-88 mc.) and monitoring
and control equipment were also installed. In addition, other transmitters operating
on 250 mc. (with 200 watts c.w.) 750 mc: (with 200 watts c.w.), and 3300 mc. (with
50 kw. peak of pulse) were installed to carry out further propagation measurements.
Receiving circular dipoles were located on an eight-foot streamlined mast atop
the vertical tail fin. These antennas were used to receive standard ground stations
for rebroadcast. The vertical tail fin was chosen as a location for the receiving
array because it was the spot most isolated from the transmitting array, thereby
reducing the problems of receiving weak signals in close proximity with the 5 kw.
video and the sound transmitters. This location plus the use of filters made it
possible to receive any commercial channel except Channel 5, where the lower sideband
components of the Channel 6 transmitter were relatively high.
In broadcasting position, the main transmitting antenna mast hung vertically
downwards. This mast carried a two-element turnstile array for the Channel 6 video
carrier, a single-element circular dipole sound antenna, and a 547.5 mc. relay link
receiving array. The mast is 28 feet long and induced some 600 h.p. of additional
drag to the plane in spite of its being streamlined. This array, of course, was
retractable for take-offs and landings.
Power for all equipment was obtained from three
15 kva., 500-cycle alternators coupled directly to the plane's engines. The plane
used a 70,000 BTU-per-hour air conditioning system in order to dissipate the heat
from the operating compartment. Without air conditioning, the compartment temperatures
reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit in spite of the fact that outside air temperatures
were 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
This equipment was flown more or less regularly from June of 1948 to February
of 1949. Usual flight procedure after take-off from Baltimore (Maryland) was to
climb to operating altitude at Baltimore. During the hour required to climb, equipment
was brought on the air and checked out. Upon reaching altitude, the plane was flown
away from Baltimore while continuous propagation measurements and range measurements
were being made. The programs of WMAR-TV of Baltimore usually were broadcast on
After each flight, many TV fans wrote in to describe results of the test at their
particular location. These reports from the public were numerous; several hundred
letters were received on some flights and proved to be a valuable source of information.
Area covered by reports agreed very well with predicted coverage.
An angle of five degrees or greater is obtained for only the first mile from
a 500-foot high antenna compared with 64 miles from the 30,000-foot antenna. An
angle of one degree or greater is obtained for only 5 miles from a 500-foot high
antenna as compared with 168 miles from the 30,000-foot antenna.
Stratovision proponents estimate that it would require only eight planes in "relay"
to provide a transcontinental network and six additional planes to give adequate
coverage to 78 percent of the 149,000,000 people in the United States.
As to the future of airborne TV, C. E. Nobles, head of Stratovision work for
Westinghouse, says "The major technical problems of the system have been solved,
and the commercial development awaits only the crystallization of public demand
for the expanded services offered by airborne broadcasting, application of the system
by the radio industry to meet this demand, and the clarification of channel facilities
available to make possible this application."
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