October 1952 RadioElectronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from RadioElectronics,
published 19301988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Transmission lines have
always been a mystery to beginners in the RF field  both to newly branded engineers
and to hobbyists and technicians. Many magazine articles on the topic have been
written over the decades, and this one from a 1952 issue of RadioElectronics
is as good of a primer as any I have seen. Author Hector French incorporates many
visual aids (aka drawings) to assist the uninitiated transmission line student grasp
the concepts of impedance matching, standing waves, power transfer, etc. The only
math in the entire article is characteristic impedance = voltage / current, and
it does not include any scary talk about complex numbers with real and imaginary
parts. BTW, it took me a moment to figure out that the objects added to the
sinewaves are glasses, a nose, and a mouth to indicate a face looking in the
direction the wave is moving.
Transmission Lines Simplified
Like oneway streets, they're fine if they take you where you're going  but
watch out if you have to turn around!
By Hector E. French
It's usually easy enough to take electrical energy from one place to another
 all that's needed at low frequencies is some wire for a conductor, and Ohm's law
to figure out what is going to happen. But at high frequencies, Ohm's law seems
to be a failure. The voltages and currents do all sorts of queer things along the
line, and we don't find it easy to visualize what's really happening.
But it's really not too difficult. Watch.
First, imagine a transmission line that reaches out to infinity,
and apply a signal to the line.
The ratio of the voltage to the current is the characteristic impedance of the
line,
and if the line has no losses, both the voltage and the current can keep going
forever
without dying out. And no matter how far or how long the signal travels, it will
continue to see ahead of it the same identical value of characteristic impedance.
Which is a monotonous situation indeed.
So to break up the monotony, imagine that you're located somewhere out in space
along the line a couple of million miles ahead of the oncoming signal
and cut the line.
Now connect a resistance between the cut end of the line and ground, with the
value of the resistance exactly equal to the characteristic impedance of the transmission
line.
(Don't ask where the ground comes from  it's like learning to play chess.)
Not too many seconds later, the signal will come whooping up the line at just
a little less than the speed of light, and will run up against the resistance.
To the approaching signal, the resistance will appear to be just a continuation
of the line, because the terminating resistance has exactly the same value as the
characteristic impedance of the line. So all the signal energy flows down back into
the ground through the resistance and is dissipated as heat.
And that's all there is to that side of the picture.
This is what is called a properly terminated transmission line. All the energy
pumped into one end of the line goes directly through the load at the other end,
assuming no losses in the line. The only requirement is that the load impedance
be the same as the line's characteristic impedance. A good example is a transmitting
antenna whose feeders are correctly matched to the radiating element, or a receiving
antenna whose feeders are correctly matched to the receiver.
But this isn't the only possible way to terminate the line. What if the line
were cut and no resistance load put on at all?
Then when the signal gets to the unloaded end of the line it can't go any farther.
The only conductor available is the one that brought the signal away out here
to the end of the line  so the transmitted signal does the only thing it can do.
It promptly turns around and goes back along the same line, like a
reflection  back toward the beginning of the line.
The trouble is, this reflected signal is on the same line at the same time as
the transmitted signal. And the combination
starts to look like a very confusing situation.
But it's not as complicated as it looks. To see how easily the system can be
analyzed, watch what happens to the voltage at the end of the line. This end is
completely open. Nothing there at all to hold down the voltage. So, at the end of
an opencircuited transmission line, the voltage is a maximum. This shouldn't be
so very difficult to remember. Why shouldn't the voltage at the end of an open line
be at a maximum  what is there to stop it?
To analyze another point on the same line, simply back up from the end of the
line by a quarter wave
and watch what happens to the voltage at this point as the transmitted signal
goes by.
Just like any other a.c., the voltage at this point will go negative,
and positive,
and keep on repeating the cycle as long as there is any transmitted signal.
Now watch what is happening to the reflected voltage at the same point. This
reflected voltage will be going through the same cycle as the transmitted voltage,
obviously enough. But the reflected voltage is going positive
when the transmitted voltage is going negative, and the reflected voltage is
going negative
when the transmitted voltage is going positive!
So whether the combined voltages at the quarterwave point are considered like
this:
or this:
the two voltages will always be in opposition and will balance out to zero. Therefore,
at a point a quarter wave back from the end of an opencircuited transmission line
the voltage is always zero.
This surely differs from a conventional a.c. circuit  here is a point along
a hot line where there is zero voltage!
Now back up from the end of the line by another quarter wave,
(making it a half wave from the end), and watch what happens to the voltage at
this point. The reflected voltage this time is going positive
when the transmitted voltage is going positive, and the reflected voltage is
going negative
when the transmitted voltage is going negative.
So whether we look at the combination like this
or this
the two signals will always be aiding each other. Therefore, a half
wave back from the end of an open circuited transmission line the voltage is a maximum.
Just the same as it was at the very end of the line.
If these measurements are repeated at quarterwave intervals along the line,
the same sequence repeats, giving points of maximum voltage along the line with
points of zero voltage between them. This is known as a system of standing waves,
and it is possible to make a general statement for the whole system: with an opencircuited
trans\mission line, at all evennumbered quarter waves from the end the voltage
is a maximum, at all oddnumbered quarter waves the voltage is zero. Plus, of course,
the very end of the line, where the voltage is a maximum also.
Now there's still one more thing that can be done with this transmission line.
Instead of leaving the cut end open, it can be shortcircuited to ground.
Don't ask where I got the ground this time, either it's still like learning
to play chess.
There's no problem at all this time with figuring out the voltage at the end
of the line. There's a dead short to ground, so, at the end of a shortcircuited
transmission line the voltage is zero.
Now back up from the end of this shortcircuited transmission line by a quarter
wave, just as was done before. At this point, both a transmitted voltage and a reflected
voltage will be present, just as in the opencircuited case. But this time the reflected
voltage is going positive
when the transmitted voltage is going positive, and the reflected voltage is
going negative when the transmitted voltage is going negative
when the transmitted voltage is going negative. So whether we look at the combination
of voltages at this point like this:
or this:
the two signals will always be aiding each other. Therefore, a quarter wave
back from the end of a shortcircuited transmission line the voltage is a maximum.
Now back up along the line from the end by another quarter wavelength, just as
before. This time the reflected voltage at the new point is going negative
when the transmitted voltage is going positive, and the reflected voltage is
going positive
when the transmitted voltage is going negative. So whether the combination is
viewed like this:
or this:
the two signals will always be in opposition and balance out to zero. Therefore,
a half wave back from the end of a shortcircuited transmission line the voltage
is zero.
(You may ask: "Why is any signal reflected from a groundedend transmission line?
It is easy to understand reflection from an openended line  the electrons pile
up and  having nowhere else to go  come back along the line. But why doesn't the
signal just run into ground and disappear?"
The answer is easy. We have very large currents at the end of the line  the
type we might expect at a shortcircuit. These create a tremendous magnetic field
around the line. When the signal has gone, the field collapses, producing a current
that travels back along the line.)
With this shortcircuited transmission line, a system of standing waves is found,
similar to the opencircuited transmission line. And a similar general statement
can be made: with a shortcircuited transmission line, at all evennumbered quarter
waves from the end the voltage is zero, at all oddnumbered quarter waves the voltage
is a maximum. Plus, of course, the very end of the line where the voltage is zero.
The process for current is identical with that for the voltage, so there is no
purpose to repeating the same details over again. The whole business can be put
in one simple table:
That's all there is to getting a picture of what is happening along a transmission
line. When properly terminated, all the energy in the line goes into the load with
no reflection. But when the line is either opencircuited or shortcircuited, a
reflected signal is present which aids the transmitted signal at some points, and
opposes the transmitted signal at other points.
This reflected voltage travels all the way back to the generator at the beginning
of the line  but that's a complete story in itself, for another time.
Posted December 13, 2021
