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Drones Could Simplify Antenna Pattern Measurements

Remote controlled aircraft eliminate many problems in generating plots

This article originally appeared in TV Technology

If you’ve ever worked at a station that’s installed a new antenna, you’ve probably wondered how well the antenna’s real pattern matched the nice clean pattern supplied by the antenna manufacturer. The most common way to check this is via ground measurements, which can be strongly influenced by the choice of locations and surrounding objects. Measurements from the air can also be used, but they can be expensive and may require difficult-to-obtain clearances for flying at the altitudes and locations necessary to fully characterize the antenna.

The solution may be LS telecom’s cost-effective antenna radiation pattern measurements using remotely-piloted aircraft.

LS telecom said it “carries out these measurements by means of remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA), which include a measurement and sensor system on board. The RPA circles the antenna and measures the radiation pattern in the horizontal and vertical planes at predetermined altitudes and distances from the antenna.”

LS telecom offers the antenna measurement as a turnkey service “from the preparation and calibration of the remotely-piloted aircraft, to the in-flight antenna performance measurements and the delivery of the results. The deliverables consist of the horizontal and vertical radiation patterns and effective radiated power per transmission service.”

The RPA (which could also be called a drone) flies a preprogrammed flight path that’s accurate on all axes. Measurements can be conducted close to the antenna mast or at greater distances. In case you are worried about a rouge RPA/drone, LS telecom said there are several safety features embedded in the operational and navigational systems in the RPA system, including a “return to take-off point” should the remote control fail.

This sounds like an ideal solution, but I wonder how well a remote-controlled device like this would work in an area with such real world RF levels as you might encounter as sites like Mt. Wilson. The press release announcing the measurement system was released in Johannesburg. LS telecom may not offer the system in the United States, but I would expect they may be surprised how many stations would be interested in knowing what their antenna pattern really looks like.