You are on page 1of 19

Aircraft Radio Ignition Noise

by Jan Zumwalt

By Jan Zumwalt Page 1 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 3
Testing an Alternator With an Oscilloscope .....................................................................................................4
Common Installation Mistakes .........................................................................................................................5
Locating the Source of the Problem............................................................................................................. 5
What To Do About Ignition Noise................................................................................................................. 6
Use of Shielding ........................................................................................................................................... 7
Shielding Efficiency ...................................................................................................................................... 8
Ignition Filters .............................................................................................................................................. 9
Alternator Noise ......................................................................................................................................... 10
Noise Filters? ............................................................................................................................................. 10
Strobe Lights .............................................................................................................................................. 11
Electric Fuel Pumps ................................................................................................................................... 11
Other Noise Sources.................................................................................................................................. 11
Intermittent Radio Noises .......................................................................................................................... 12
Switch Controlled Noises ........................................................................................................................... 12
Squelch Control ......................................................................................................................................... 12
Microphone Noises .................................................................................................................................... 13
And Finally ................................................................................................................................................. 13
Shielding Two Stroke Aircraft Engines ...........................................................................................................13
Hand-held radio Interference ..........................................................................................................................15
Types of Interference. ................................................................................................................................ 15
Setting up for Diagnosis. ............................................................................................................................ 15
Diagnosis. .................................................................................................................................................. 16
Suggested Remedies ................................................................................................................................ 17

By Jan Zumwalt Page 2 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Introduction
Undesirable electrical noises will always exist whether we can hear them or see the effects in other
equipment. The information presented here will be discussed in great detail but in this introduction is a quick
over view of some major points of interest.

The by-product of producing an ignition spark is the creation of waves of electromagnetic energy within
the radio frequency spectrum (above 20,000 Hz). Radio frequency interference (RFI) includes radio
interference caused by electrostatic discharges (ESD) from static electricity. Electromagnetic
interference (EMI) encompasses interference to computers and other solid-state electronics.

This radiated energy is manifest not only by the audible noises heard in the aircraft's headsets and
speakers but also by disturbances to navigation equipment.

Conductive Interference is interference that is introduced into a circuit by coupling. Coupling can be either
resistive, capacitive, or inductive. Conductive interference exists most often where common return circuits
such as power supplies and grounds exist.

It might surprise you to learn that many of these troublesome radio noises often result from the poor wiring
installations sometimes incorporated during the construction of an aircraft. In other words, the most
troublesome noise is that caused by stray electromagnetic waves that emanate from installed electric
equipment, such as magnetos, alternators, relays and the like, and are not necessarily the fault of the
avionics equipment installed.

Ground Shield

The primary defense against electromagnetic interference is shielding. As with many hanger tales where the
information is incomplete, the where and how to ground shielding has it's share of folklore tales.

If the item being grounded is not connected to another electrical circuit then it usually should be
grounded at both ends. For example ignition shielding and antennas neither of these have shields that
are part of an active electrical circuit.

If the equipment is connected to two or more pieces of equipment with a power supply, then it should
only be grounded at one end. For example a cd player or radio connected to a audio panel.

The problem of grounding at both ends occurs when two electrical circuits create a different ground
potential within their circuit board or power supply. This may cause subtle differences in ground potential
that creates a current between ground points that radiates at the frequency of the circuit.

An often overlooked additional issue when multiple electronic equipment is grounded is there likely will still
be differences between each ground spot. So the same spot on the aircraft, or at least on the same
ground buss should be used to tie the different components. That is something the "ground at one side"
folks are usually naive about. They really don't understand what is going on, they are just repeating what
they heard and no explanation is usually provided.

Before digital and audio equipment was installed in aircraft, this differentiation did not need to be used or
explained and so some older aircraft simply had everything grounded wherever was convenient - and it

By Jan Zumwalt Page 3 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


worked properly because there was no interconnected power supplies joined in multiple circuit components.
Then, newer aircraft came along and have multiple pieces of electronics interconnected and the general
aviation public has not been educated in what, when or why there is a difference it depends on what is
being grounded.

Digital equipment (glass cockpits) is the most susceptible to ground potential disruption. It is not uncommon
for circuit power supply grounds to vary by several volts. A 3.5v microprocessor has a logic swing of just
over a volt. If one computerized piece of equipment sends another piece of equipment a data signal with
even a volt difference the data stream can be corrupted.

Testing an Alternator With an Oscilloscope

Troubleshooting an alternator issue is much simpler with the aid of precision test equipment like the digital
storage scope. When you scope the alternator output, it should be a clean and fairly even ripple display. If
it is not (lots of hash and strange squiggles) you have an alternator problem that needs repaire or
replacement. It's not unusual to have a failing alternator that still charges fine.

To begin testing the alternator start the engine and


carefully unscrew and disconnect the battery
terminals.
Next select the AC or DC positions over the scope,
it is preferable to keep it in parade position while the
various waveforms are testing.
Next connect the scope's negative alligator clip to
the alternator ground connection.
Now connect the positive probe to the alternator
positive terminal.

Image 1: The first image shows a typical oscilloscope


waveform where the alternator is running normal. Judging
by the curve of the waveform the alternator may be running
at a fast idle.

Image 2: The second image shows a normal alternator


when connected through the DC position. Notice it is
straight across with a proportionate increase in voltage.

Image 3: In the third image we see a correct waveform for


an alternator running at a slow idle speed.

Image 4: Image number four shows a waveform where the


diode has failed. The image also shows there is an open
stator winding, this is typical during slow idle speed.

Image 5: The fifth and final image shows an alternator with

By Jan Zumwalt Page 4 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


a fast idle where the waveform appears to jump rapidly.

Common Installation Mistakes

Contrary to hangar tales you may have heard, the elimination of radio noise has nothing to do with black
magic. Nor is something that only a highly skilled radio technician can do. It takes patience and a
methodical step by step approach. Troubleshooting any kind of problem is based on common sense and
logic. Tracking down and curing an unwanted radio noise problem is no different.

1. High heat will cause coax center conductor to shift and throw radio off frequency.
2. ADF radios use fixed capacitive coax cable, do not cut. The antenna coupler for King radios
should be 192pf. Couplers for Collins are 3000pf. All ADF coax should be 50ohm.
3. Older ADF equipped airplanes need Balun on antenna.
4. Antennas need a ground plane.
5. Most aircraft receive VHF communication on the Horz Nav Antenna and transmit on the vert
Com Antenna. This helps reduce the towers 15watt signal so that the aircraft's 7 watt
transmission signal distance will be about the same as the receiver.
6. Lowering flaps on low wing aircraft may block some antennas such as the transponder.
7. When you hit the ADF test button it should move the needle 90deg to the station signal. If no
signal is being received it should rotate continuously.
8. Transponders should be connected a maximum of 9ft. Originally transponders used RG58 but it
caused poison gas when burned so new installations should use RG400. If more than 9ft is
needed, a custom cable must be made that totals 50ohm.
9. Use a known good handheld radio in the cockpit to see if any engine or electrical noise will break
the squelch.
10. Wiring checks
- the mic/phone jacks are insulated from chassis ground.
- wire connections are shielded at the radio end only, not at both ends of the shield, I shield all
wires.
11. A good practice is to separate the 12 volt supply into isolated circuits with diode bridge rectifiers
eg one for avionics, one for lights, one for instrument, and one for aux - fans, motors, etc. Plus
use a noise filter on the avionics circuit.
12. For ambient cockpit noise, use non-sensitive microphones and noise cancelling headphones. If
the cockpit is noisy like an open cockpit, use a wind muff, covered with a leather sock. The only
thing you want to get to your microphone is your voice.
13. Use sound deadening material on the firewall and sides.

Locating the Source of the Problem

You can solve a fair share of the typical radio noise problems you encounter by first locating and isolating
the source of the noise problem. Once this is done, the necessary corrective action often becomes obvious
and is readily accomplished.

Begin by examining the obvious and the easiest to check potential trouble sources:

By Jan Zumwalt Page 5 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Poor ground connections, loose terminals, broken or frayed wires, inadequate shielding.
Check the operation of the various electrical systems (lights, strobes, fuel pump, rotating beacon,
intercom, etc.), one at a time, listening for noise.
Do this with the radio(s) ON and with the engine running then again with the engine shut down.
Conducted interference can be identified by temporarily operating the affected equipment (victim)
from a separate power supply. If the interference stops then it is conducted. If the interference
remains then it is radiated. Some equipment is more prone to EMI than others. Conducted
interference can be reduced by grounding back to the power supply using twisted pair wire, by using
filter circuits, or by distancing the power supply line from the sources of interference. Radiated
interference is best reduced at the source by shielding.
Ignition vs Alternator noise - Ignition noise usually comes across as pops and crackles.
Alternator noise is usually a low frequency whine that increase in tone when engine rpm. Many
alternator regulators both mechanical and electronic version are variable switching so the frequency
changes in pitch as the alternator output goes up. Some manufactures are moving to hi freq
switching PWM (pulse width modulated) in order to be out of the audio range. The alternator
switches at a known frequency makeing suppression easier to predict.
Harness Inspection - Inspect the harness for broken or frayed shielding wires. Ignition harnesses
require a good ground at both ends which reduces the shield's mutual reactance to ground and
prevents the shield from becoming an antenna. A good RF-shield connection is below 3 milli-ohm
resistance. This is a low resistance value and emphasizes the importance of a good electrical
connection to ground. Resistance above this level transmits noise. EMI from the ignition harness is
usually radiated. If the harness is the source of EMI, it should disappear when the antenna is
disconnected from victim.

Harnesses with plastic covering over the braided shielding may prevent the shielding from grounding
to the magneto cap. Make sure that the ferrule used to install the lead into the magneto cap has
pierced the plastic covering and makes contact with the steel braid. Early Bendix ferrules (pre-1985)
part number 10-620009 are notorious for their poor grounding and associated harness induced EMI.
Bendix improved this ferrule in 1985 with a new part number 10-620109 (reference Bendix Service
Information Letter JP00325). A shielded lead, if it is not properly grounded, can resonate at radio
frequencies and become a dipole antenna. The shorter the lead the higher the frequency, the longer
the lead the lower the frequency.

There are several design features used in ignition harnesses to lower EMI. These include using a
conductive shield, increasing copper content of shield conductor, increasing lead inductance, and
increasing lead resistance.

Important!
After you pinpoint a noise producer, you should try one "fix" at a time. Always check the results of
that effort before trying something else. Otherwise when you try several corrective actions before
checking the results of each, you might never learn which of the "cures" really solved the problem.

What To Do About Ignition Noise


Perhaps the most common contributor to aircraft radio noise is the ignition system. Naturally, if you do not
intend to use an onboard radio, you don't have to worry about ignition noise. And you don 't have to worry
about installing a shielded ignition system complete with expensive aircraft type shielded spark plugs and
harnesses. No radios . . . no radio noise problems!

By Jan Zumwalt Page 6 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


On the other hand, noise-free radio reception depends, in great measure, on a properly shielded ignition
system. This means the entire magneto system, including the "p" leads (the wires connecting the ignition
switch to each magneto), MUST be shielded type leads with the external shielding carefully grounded, both
at the magneto and at the opposite end, at the ignition switch. In other words, in an ignition system the
shielding is most effective when the shielding pigtails are grounded at both ends of the "p" leads.

It is equally important that the ignition harness be in good condition with no breaks in the shielding. If you
made up your own ignition leads, keep in mind the possibility that the source of an aggravating engine noise
in the headset might be traced to a
poorly fabricated ignition lead.

Of course, your spark plugs must be


the standard shielded type and in
good condition (I hope you didn't drop
one).

I have often found it unnecessary to


install magneto filters on each
magneto when shielded "p" leads are
used - provided the shielding was
properly grounded at both the
magneto and ignition switch. This can
be good news as the cost for two
magneto filters now totals an
astronomical $40 or so. My advice?
Don't install magneto filters in
anticipation that they will be needed.
They may not be!

If, however, you do find that your


shielded ignition system does not
effectively reduce the ignition noise,
you may have to install a filter
between the magneto and magneto
switch. Even so, it is just as easy to
add a magneto filter later if you have
to. Incidentally, wouldn't you expect
ignition noise to disappear when the
engine is shut down? If it doesn't
maybe it's not ignition noise.

Use of Shielding

By Jan Zumwalt Page 7 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Shielding sets boundaries for radiated energy through reflection or absorption. The shield surface reflects
interference energy because
of the impedance discontinuity
at the shield boundary.
Shields also intercept radiated
noise and return it to its
source through a low
impedance. Thus the need for
a low resistance ground back
to the source using the
shortest possible path.

Distancing the power supply


line from sources of
interference reduces the
capacitive and inductive
coupling between circuits.
Capacitance coupling
transfers electrical energy
between the two circuits.
Inductive coupling occurs where magnetic field links the circuits and magnetic energy is transferred
between the two circuits. By distancing wires the circuit coupling is limited to radiation of electromagnetic
waves. All conductive problems are either grounding or cabling.

While the by-product of the ignition spark is high frequency RF at the harness, the "P" lead circuit is a
potential source for low frequency (1 Mhz and below) interference. It should be shielded to prevent low
frequency (AM band) radio interference caused by voltage fluctuations within the coil's primary circuit.

The "P" lead has voltage, but because it is an open circuit when the magneto is operating, it doesn't carry
any current. It is a high impedance source for near-field electrical radiation. (Current carrying conductors are
low impedance and produce magnetic near-field radiation). This means that "P" lead coupling is capacitive
and the shielding attenuates the field by reflection. The best shielding material for reflection is high
conductivity materials such as copper or aluminum. The shielding needs a low impedance path to ground at
both ends with the ground at the magneto end being the most important.

Ground the "P" lead shielding to the magneto to keep the ground path back to the magneto as short as
possible. Don't twist the shielding braid into a pigtail and solder it to a ground lug. It is better to connect the
braid around the entire circumference so that the center conductor is surrounded. Not grounding the "P"
lead shielding turns the shielding into an antenna. The shielding radiates energy back and forth to the
ignition harness shielding causing extensive RF radiation.

The "P" lead connection at the ignition switch can act as a small antenna. A grounded metal cover installed
over the back of the switch shields the connection.

Shielding Efficiency

Shielding effectiveness is directly proportional to the conductivity of the shield material. If we take annealed
copper as having a conductivity of 1.00, the relative conductivity of aluminum is 0.61, iron 0.17, and
stainless steel 0.02. Stainless steel therefore, is a much less effective shield material as is copper.
However, if stainless steel and copper are used you get high strength and high shielding. Aircraft ignition
harnesses are usually shielded with tin coated copper.

By Jan Zumwalt Page 8 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


The chief drawback of a conductive shield is increased lead capacitance. Capacitance causes a sharp
voltage pulse to the spark plug electrode which increases electrode erosion. The sharp voltage pulse also
creates more EMI since the noise component of the pulse is the rise-time. Although shielding absorbs
electrical radiation, it creates more electrical radiation to absorb. The spark plug incorporates a series
resistor to absorb the capacitance shock and extend negative electrode life.

The fast rise-time pulses from the magneto produce electrical noise starting at 0 Hz and extending up in
frequency. Because the pulses have a finite rise time there is an upper cutoff frequency where the energy
starts to drop off. If the pulse rise-time can be slowed down then the cut-off frequency can be lowered,
preferably below interfering frequencies. Pulse rise-time can be slowed down by adding damping elements
(resistance and/or inductance) to the ignition circuit. Increased resistance or inductance lowers EMI.

Lead resistance lowers the voltage rise-time and is a very effective method of suppressing lead-generated
interference. The Bendix lead uses a straight conductor with 1/3 ohm per foot while the Slick lead uses a
helical conductor at 1 ohm per foot. To be electrically quiet, resistor leads need a resistance of at least
3,000 ohms per foot.

Any current carrying conductor has a magnetic field surrounding the conductor. If the conductor is curved
into a helical then some of the magnetic field returns to the conductor inducing a back current into the
conductor. This back current opposes the current flow and lowers the voltage rise-time.

A helical conductor also reduces the level of RF radiation by returning more field energy to the conductor. If
you coil a conductor the energy field surrounding a conductor is spread apart on the outside of the curve
and squeezed together on the inside of the curve. The field spread on the outside has less energy and the
field squeezing on the inside increases energy. Less energy is radiated and more energy is returned to the
conductor.

Ignition Filters

Ignition filters are used to suppress radio interference from the "P" lead. These filters are capacitors that
short circuit RF currents to ground while maintaining an open circuit to ground for direct currents. Ignition
filters are more frequently used on Bendix S-20 and S-200 series magnetos since these magnetos use a
conventional capacitor that is not as effective in suppressing higher frequency interference. Bendix S-1200,
D-2000/D-3000 and Slick magnetos use a coaxial capacitor (also called a flow-thru capacitor). Coaxial
capacitors are more effective at radio frequencies.

Conventional capacitors, because of their higher inductance, are less effective at attenuating interference
than coaxial capacitors. Inductance results from the capacitor's internal inductance and the inductance of
the capacitor's lead-in wire. The higher the inductance the lower the frequency range where the capacitor is
useful. Inductance can be decreased by shortening the lead-in wire.

The coaxial capacitor eliminates the lead-in wire, thereby lowering inductance and increasing capacitor
effectiveness in suppressing higher frequency interference. The MF-3A should be installed as a flow-thru
capacitor.

The ground path for the ignition filter is through the filter's housing. Make sure a good electrical contact is
made. Scrape away any paint and sand the contact area. You can also apply a conducting grease
(Penetrox) to the contact surfaces.

Ignition filters are more effective if installed on the magneto rather than on the firewall. If mounted on the

By Jan Zumwalt Page 9 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


firewall, the interference signals have to travel back through the firewall, engine mount, engine, and
magneto. There is considerable opportunity to radiate energy along the ground path. If it is installed on the
magneto, the ground path is considerably shorter with almost no opportunity to radiate interference energy.
There is almost no inductance from the "hot" side to ground. The result is excellent high frequency
performance.

Ignition filters shouldn't be used on Slick magnetos. Ignition filters change the capacitance of the coil's
primary circuit. The change in primary capacitance alters internal magneto timing and this reduces spark
energy.

Slick magnetos are designed so that the breaker point and the breaker cam wear at the same rate. This
reduces "E" gap timing drift. Cam wear is caused by friction between the cam and the cam lobe. Breaker
point wear is determined by the arc suppression ability of the capacitor. Changing primary capacitance by
the addition of a noise filter, changes the arc suppression at the breaker point. Doubling the capacitance
makes the points last twice as long - but changes the magneto's internal timing by 10 degrees. The
capacitor is designed so that point wear compensates for cam wear. The addition of an ignition filter
changes the breaker point's wear rate causing "E" gap timing drift.

Alternator Noise
Among the other frequently encountered radio noise makers, I would consider alternator (generator) noise
to be second only to ignition noise. Alternator noise is generally recognized by sort of a whining sound . .. a
sound that rises and falls with changes in the throttle setting.

Alternator noise is most frequently eliminated with the installation of a filter mounted directly to the
alternator. The noise filter is connected in parallel to the alternator's output lead and to the case-to-ground.

The higher the output of the alternator, the larger the capacity of the filter may have to be to reduce RF
interference and noise in the system. Most wiring diagrams show the alternator installation is to be made
using shielded wire ... does yours?

Noise Filters?

By Jan Zumwalt Page 10 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


As for noise filters, there are all types that can be connected to your electrical supply leads for noise
elimination. Radio Shack and Electronics Stores are good sources for filters. Some filters axe as cheap as
others are expensive. Wouldn't you know it, the more expensive filters are usually much more effective.

The filter installed between a magneto and magneto switch, generally consists of a single bypass capacitor
or a combination of capacitors and choke coils. These are available from your homebuilt supply sources.
Incidentally, as previously mentioned, I have seldom had to add noise filters to my magnetos. Nor have I
ever found it necessary to install a noise filter with an electric fuel pump ... lucky, I guess.

More often than not, a noise problem may be due to something as simple as a poor ground connection
between the unit and the aircraft metal structure (ground) .. . therefore, I always check for a poor ground
connection first. You say you've heard that before? .. I'm sure you have.

Strobe Lights
Builders who experience radio interference from the operation of their strobe light system most likely have
an installation problem and should not blame the strobes.

Here's what you can do:

1. Install a reliable wingtip position/strobe light installation like Whelen's A600-PG-PR installation kit.
Be sure to follow the recommended installation instructions. Homemade installations may be
somewhat less expensive but often fail to meet the regulation standards governing anti-collision
lighting systems.
2. Install your strobe Light circuit breaker at the end of the electrical buss closest to the battery using
3. Be sure to terminate the interconnecting cable shield to ground ONLY at one end or the other. Do
not terminate both ends of the shield to ground. Usually the power supply end provides the quietest
ground .. . but not always.

Electric Fuel Pumps


In some electric fuel pump installations you might find it necessary to use shielded wire to connect the
power lead to the unit.

However, just as often the electric fuel pump doesn't need to be installed with a shielded power lead. If the
noise produced when the fuel pump is being operated is annoying, by all means, try replacing the power
lead with a shielded wire. This usually corrects this type of noise problem.

Even though your electric fuel pump may only be operated during takeoffs and landings, that duration of
noise can be quite irritating and need not be tolerated, especially since the noise might also interfere with
the operational accuracy of some of your electrical instrumentation.

Other Noise Sources


In addition to the more commonly encountered ignition, alternator, strobe and fuel pump noises are a
number of other not to be overlooked potential noise troublemakers: regulators and relays, a rotating
beacon , navigation and instrument lights, electrical instruments (like the turn & bank indicator), noises

By Jan Zumwalt Page 11 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


picked up by the microphone, landing gear and flap motors, landing/ taxi lights, the radios and other
avionics equipment.

Any one of the foregoing, by itself or in concern with another accessory, may be capable of causing
unwanted noise in your headset or speaker.

Intermittent Radio Noises


An intermittent radio noise problem is the most difficult kind to correct because it may not show up when
you want it to . .. like when you haul the set off to your radio man for a bench check, for instance.

If your radio man can't verify the existence of the problem, how can he solve it? That means you should
make every effort to determine if the noise source might be in the aircraft's electrical installation before
blaming the radio and having someone tear into it.

This intermittent kind of noise problem is likely to occur because of a poor ground connection, frayed
shielding, a corroded or loose connector, and possibly a poorly soldered (cold) joint .. . although soldered
connections are more commonly encountered inside avionics equipment than in the aircraft's electrical
system installation.

Examine each shielded ring terminal to assure yourself that it is securely crimped to the wire.

Switch Controlled Noises


Fortunately, it is easy to pinpoint a faulty switch operated circuit as soon as you flip the switch on. However,
it might be a little harder to eliminate the problem. Examples of this would include the radio interference
which might accompany the operation of any switch controlled unit such as the electric fuel pump, rotating
beacon, strobe lights, flaps, landing gear motor, etc.

As always, your best assurance for noise-free radio reception is a properly wired installation. Especially
important are good connections between the switch, unit (accessory), and the aircraft metal structure, to
forestall the generation of noise and the pickup of the noise.

Some power cables (wires) may not be shielded at all when they really should be to minimize the noise
potential. In other instances, additional shielding over that already provided might solve an otherwise vexing
noise problem. When radio noises start with the activation of a switch and continue as long as the unit is
being operated, the noise source is obvious, isn't it?

Squelch Control
The primary purpose of the squelch control is to cut out the hissing noise you normally hear in your receiver
when no signal is being received. However, it can also cut out noise and other interference in the radio.

Some radio equipment may have a separate "Squelch On/Off" switch. Others may have an adjustable
control and still others (more expensive rigs) may have an automatic squelch adjustment. Ordinarily, most
general aviation receivers, including intercom installations, will have the squelch control. Quite a few pilots

By Jan Zumwalt Page 12 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


don't understand how the squelch control really functions so I better try to explain it. The squelch controls
the strength at which a received signal must be before it is passed to the audio amplifier.

For maximum reception sensitivity you would ordinarily turn the squelch control all the way clockwise at
which point you will hear a hissing sound from your receiver (also ignition and alternator noises, if present) .
disappears. This is the correct setting for your squelch control. Turning the squelch any further than this will
prevent the receiver from picking up weaker signals.

It also causes that hiss when no signal is being received .. . it is not an atmospheric noise being picked up
by the antenna. As you turn the squelch control counter-clockwise, there will be a point where the hissing
noise disappears. This is the correct setting for your squelch control. Turning the squelch any farther than
this will prevent the receiver from picking up weaker signals.

Microphone Noises
Your microphone will also pick up aircraft background noise .. . the rattle of metal, the rumbling of tires on
the pavement and wind noise, not to mention the sound of labored breathing for whatever the reason.

To correctly use the microphone it must be held very close to your mouth so that it is just touching the lips. If
you move the microphone away from your lips it will not produce much of a signal and the modulation of the
transmitter will be quite low.

And Finally
Some of the noises you hear in flight may be due to somebody 's stuck microphone button. Incidentally, you
might check your own mike button to see that you are not the offender.

Noise, who needs it? And that goes for unnecessary radio transmission, too.

Shielding Two Stroke Aircraft Engines

This information is provided as a guide for shielding your aircraft for the successful installation and
operation of any AM radio system.

Engines used in ultralight aircraft are traditionally two stroke 20 to 75 horsepower units which use a
magneto to generate electric current in order to produce a high energy spark for ignition. This type of
ignition is reliable and effective and used on most aircraft utilizing gasoline-fueled engines.

However, this set-up interferes with radio broadcasting. The problem with high energy spark ignition is its
inherent characteristic of broadcasting a complete spectrum of radio signals in the form of static, especially
on the AM band.

Years ago, when aircraft communication was initiated, the only radios available were of the amplitude
modulation (AM type). Since that time, no major changes in aircraft radio design have been made.

By Jan Zumwalt Page 13 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Engine ignition noise (static) has always been a problem for aircraft communication systems, and it remains
so today. With the advent of the all-metal airplane, the problem has been reduced for a number of reasons.
Most important of these is the complete shrouding of the engine in a metal cowl with a metal firewall
between the engine and radio installation.

But even shrouding the engine in metal does not remove all of the interference. By shielding the actual
source, most unwanted signals can be suppressed. High tension wires should be shielded with wire braid,
spark plugs jacketed in metal, and the magnetos housed in a metal case with all of these grounded to the
engine block.

As a final measure, the antenna for the radio should be placed some distance from the engine and
connected to the radio with a shielded coaxial cable which has its outer braid grounded at j each end.

AM communication equipment installed in an ultralight aircraft will operate satisfactorily if properly installed
and protected from the high energy ignition system.

The following steps should be taken in order to assure clear communication to and from your ultra light
aircraft:

1. Obtain and install resistor spark plugs of the same type you are now using. May be located at your
auto parts store.
2. Install metal spark plug covers. (Covers can be purchased from Parts Unlimited - 204 West Lawton
Street - Edgerton, Wisconsin 53534)
3. Shield your spark plug wires with wire braid. The end closest to the spark plug end should be
grounded to the metal plug cover. (The braid can be obtained from your local electronic supply
store).
4. Fabricate a sheet metal cover (.020 aluminum is sufficient) to fit over the spark coil or coils. This
cover should fit tight to the engine block and should be grounded there. All wires should emerge
through rubber' grommets set in the cover. The wire braid should be grounded inside the cover. (See
Figure 1 and 2).
5. Last and probably most important, fabricate a bracket attaching your antenna to the wing tip, jack
post, or vertical fin of your aircraft.
6. Install the antenna on the bracket and connect it to the radio transceiver' using a coaxial cable.
(Both the antenna and cable may be purchased at your nearest aircraft radio shop.
7. Secure the coaxial cable from the antenna to the radio using duct tape or similar material. The coax
should be secured to a structural member every 18 to 24 inches.

Remember, shielding an ignition system for radio communications is more an art than a science. What may
work in some cases, may not in others'. This news letter, is intended to be a guide to you the user. You may
find that you'll have satisfactory results using any one or a combination of steps shown here.

The cause is always the same: a ground loop, caused by more than one item (in the audio path) being
locally grounded to the car body. Unrelated current flows along the car body create a voltage drop (in the
mV range) between disjoint audio grounds, and that introduces common-mode signal, usually alternator
whine, into the audio. Filtering does nothing, because the offending signal is in the audible range...

The fix is not simple; frequently requiring mounting all of the audio devices in close proximity to one another
(so that they can share a single point ground), rewiring, sometimes adding ground-loop isolators (audio
transformers).

The goal is simple. Imagine building the entire audio suite on a wooden kitchen table. There is no car body

By Jan Zumwalt Page 14 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


ground. Every interconnection must carry ground through the wiring harness. Every power feed (negative
side) is brought to a single point. When the audio system is installed in the vehicle, there is only one place
that can touch the frame! If things like the head end are intrinsically grounded by their mounting screws,
then that must become the de-facto single-point ground for the entire system.

It is really hard to fix a screwed-up install without revisiting every single connection, and possibly redoing
the entire install.

Hand-held radio Interference

There are growing numbers of aircraft using the very sophisticated and effective handheld
transceivers which may be seen as non-installed, and it is with these that these hints
are mainly concerned, although they may apply equally to installed equipment.

Nothing that follows is by any means authoritative nor has it any official blessing .. It is
rather a collection of various experiences gathered in the course of battling with Murphy over a
number of years which may prove useful to anyone trying to eliminate interference which is
ruining his/her listening pleasure.

Types of Interference.

Usually, a handheld transceiver will be connected to a suitable external 1/4 Wave aerial. If it
is not the range will be much impaired, the likelihood of interference will be far greater, and
the VOR function (if applicable) will be grossly inaccurate. Assuming an external aerial,
interference falls into two main categories:

Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), which is unwanted noise or signals being transmitted by
some other installation on board and being received on the tuned frequency. Most likely
source will be the engine ignition system, or another radio set which may have un-clean
emissions, or strobes or Transponders.

Audio Frequency Interference (AFI), which is electrical noise being generated at audible
frequencies (ie in the human hearing range of about 100 to 15000 cycles per sec) which is
managing to penetrate into some part of the transceivers circuitry at a point downstream of
the operating frequency (which is in the 108 to 137 Million cycles per sec). Commonest
sources here are generators, gyro motors, audio feedback (which may also come via the RFI
route), static discharges due to poorly bonded airframes and even cable crosstalk where
audio lines have been packed in a loom with unsuitable bedfellows.

Setting up for Diagnosis.

This is by far the most important task. Generally the problem will be audible in receive and
may take various forms.

By Jan Zumwalt Page 15 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Begin by ensuring that the aerial, its coax lead and BNC connecting plug are properly
connected, have no crackly connections and no coiled up surplus coax tucked away. If
excess aerial coax is coiled up, it will have a disastrous effect on the matching of the aerial to
the set and will certainly cause problems in transmit on some frequencies. It should be cut to
convenient length with no more than reasonable slack. It is assumed that the aerial has a
tuned counterpoise by way of ground-plane plate or helical down going wire wound
equivalent. This ensures that the set is presented with what it will see as a matched load and
will not suffer reflected un-emitted energy pulses which will lead to signal distortion or at best a
seriously degraded receive and transmit performance.

Ensure that any headset patch lead connections are sound and that any remote PTT line and
button are free from chafed insulation, poor connections etc.

Diagnosis.

Start the aircraft engine, and switch on all the other instruments (gyros etc) that would be
used in flight and of course switch on the transceiver. Back off the squelch control to allow
background mush/white noise to be fully audible. Select a free frequency where no stations
are transmitting (NEVER use 121.500). The mush should be a loud slightly gritty hiss, but
should not contain any whine, nor any continuous burp nor steady crackle. If any is heard,
vary the engine RPM to see if the pitch (note) of the noise alters in time with that change.

If you have a sharp crackle which varies with engine speed, it is RFI coming from the HT leads in all
probability.
If you have a variable pitch whine, you are likely to have generator RFI or AFI or even both.
If you have a lesser whine that does not change with engine RPM, its likely to be the gyro blower
motor or even the in-flight movie projector motor if you have one. The point is that the engine is
blameless.
If you have an occasional burst of crackles, which is more likely once the aircraft is airborne, then it
is probably a build-up of skin friction generated static on an un-bonded section of the airframe which
is arcing across a minute gap to the rest of the airframe whenever the charge is great enough to
make mini-lightning and will sound very much like thunderstorms did especially on long wave
Radio 4.

If you have none of these and the mush is just mush, then check all the same items on a
number of other free frequencies across the entire range of channels, eg, 118MHz, 120 MHz,
125MHz, 130MHz and say 135MHz. If all is still good it remains only to check transmissions. A
helper with a handheld some 500 yards away is invaluable. Using non-sensitive (traffic free)
frequencies only, make transmissions on a range of such frequencies.

If helper reports squeaks, raspberries, or obtrusive overlay of whine or continuous sharp


crackle on your transmission, they may evidence one of the following:

a) Squeaks and raspberries are likely to be feedback caused either by the aerial being so close to
the headset leads in the cockpit that emitted signal is breaking into the lines and its audio content is
getting onto the microphone lead and doing what so often occurs at the village fete when the

By Jan Zumwalt Page 16 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


microphone is too close to the public address speakers, or the raspberry may also be due to a low
transceiver battery which cannot deliver enough power for transmitting. Most types of transceiver
have a little illegible message which appears in the window to that effect. This would not apply to
fixed installations powered from the aircraft supply.
b) Whine or continuous crackle will be generator or HT leads adding their efforts riding pick- a-back on
your carrier wave. This is only likely when the same problem has been encountered in receive.
c) If helper reports a weak voice signal, but an apparently robust carrier (ie when you press to transmit
his mush is fully blanked out), then it is likely that the microphones in your chosen headsets are of
the wrong type or ill-matched (impedance wise) to give sufficient audio drive to put an adequate
audio signal onto the carrier wave. In this event seek makers advice and get correct/suitable
headsets.

Before dealing with suggested remedies, it is worth mentioning that certain types of interference are more
likely to occur if the transceiver is being wholly or additionally powered from the aircrafts on-board power
supply. Such supplies are generally from the main battery, which is in turn kept charged from the generator
or additional windings on a magneto. When the aircraft is first started, the main battery will be depleted and
initially will absorb most of the roughness coming from the generator & rectifier on the DC charge line.
Once it is full up however, all the roughness will float on the surface and will appear on the line bringing
power to the transceiver. It is not equipped to filter this noise out, the characteristic whine will pervade both
reception and transmission.

Suggested Remedies

1. Generator or Gyro motor whine is most likely when using on-board power. The power line to the
transceiver needs a filter. This is in the form of a wire wound choke (obtainable from car radio
installers) placed in series with the positive line, and an electrolytic capacitor in the region of 22,000F
(25Vdc Working V) connected across positive and negative lines.

2. HT lead continuous rpm related crackle is usually easy to cure by fitting screened plug leads.
These should be grounded to the engine block at the distributor/magneto end and via the plug cap
metal outercases at the plug end. This should stop the plug leads from radiating over their length,
which is about equivalent to a quarter wavelength at our VHF band frequency so they can act as
transmitting aerials quite efficiently! The spark pulse is a crude form of radio frequency transmission.
Two stroke engines are particularly susceptible due to high rpm and vigorous spark. Marconi managed
to get a simple spark to generate enough of an electromagnetic pulse to bridge the Atlantic!

3. Screening plug leads is not difficult, but requires access to some good quality tubular copper or tinned
copper wire braid. This can be rescued from large diameter Coax cable, by pulling out the centre
conductor and insulator (dielectric) and then pulling off the outer PVC sheath, or may be obtained from
electrical suppliers like Maplin or RS. You should also ensure that you are using the Bosch (1K) metal
cased plug caps with automotive plugs and not the brown plastic NGK type (in the case of Rotax
engines). You can then sleeve over each plug lead, soldering one braid end to each plug cap, and
attaching a twisted tail at the coil end to the crank case by the shortest possible route. MAKE
ABSOLUTELY SURE THAT THERE ARE NO STRAY BRAID FILAMENTS LURKING IN OR CLOSE
TO THE HT LEADS ENTRY INTO THE RUBBER BOOT ON THE COIL.

By Jan Zumwalt Page 17 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


4. Squeaks and raspberries have been dealt with. If the squeak varies in pitch (in transmit) when you
wave the headset leads or the PTT line about, then either re-site the aerial further away, or look at
replacing the headset leads with braided screened leads (many are not screened). Such screening
must be grounded at the plug end. It may also prove necessary to have tiny de-coupling capacitors
fitted between the microphone live line and ground and between the earphone leads at the sockets
in the patching junction box. These cost only pennies (spec. 1nF) and have the effect of grounding
down stray radio frequency signals on the lines, whilst not affecting the audio at all. A similar 1nF
capacitor may also be needed across the remote PTT line where it joins the patch junction box, since
it too can pick up stray RFI and convey it into the transceiver.

5. Static: This is a hard one to locate. Somewhere in the airframe, is an area exposed to airflow
which has no good electrical contact with the remainder. When found, it will need a braid strap
connecting it firmly to the rest of the airframe. Incidentally, the engine itself must of course have a
stout braid connecting it to the rest of the airframe. If it does not, or if any other so-called grounded
or negative items have no good connection one with another, then all attempts at curing
interference may fail.
6. Aerials themselves: Most radio equipped aircraft are fitted with a wave groundplane aerial
(antenna). This may take the form of a smart encased dorsal fin or just a simple wire whip as the
driven element, but on many installations there is evidence of complete ignorance about the ground
plane side of the equation. Even some professional radio installers seem to think that if the braid of the
feeder coax is firmly connected to the metal fuselage at the base of the aerial, then it will do the job.
Wrong! At any given frequency the length of the driven element (sticking out bit) is calculated to be
resonant as a wavelength (approx 22 or 550mm at mid VHF band). But the counterpoise or other
half must also be of similar dimension so as the present the transmitter/receiver with a 1/2 wavelength
total. The entire fuselage however presents no such thing, and completely unbalances the system,
causing reflected, and hence un-radiated power to crawl all over the airframe causing a variety of
problems, not least interference and much degraded performance both in receive and transmit. At the
base of the aerial, the braid should also be connected to a tuned groundplane either in the form of a
downgoing insulated wire or number of wires measuring 5% less in length than the driven element. It
can also be a helical rubber duck which looks electrically like the same length or indeed a metal disc
with a radius of same length, connected at its centre but insulated for the rest. It does not matter
that the airframe is also connected because the oscillating pulses in the aerial will choose the resonant
path both ways, just as a sound of fixed pitch in a room will cause only the string of resonant tuning in
an idle piano to vibrate in sympathy. So . the aerial needs careful investigation. It can make a
world of difference.

As a final reassurance try the following: Switch on receiver to a free channel, hear the mush, turn the
squelch only just as far as absolutely necessary to kill the mush and note its position in Oclock terms, start
the engine and rev as high as practical on the ground. Mush will break in again. Now turn the squelch
again, only as far as needed to silence the mush once more. Now switch on any other ancillaries like the
gyros etc. If mush re-appears, turn again only just enough to kill the mush. Now shut everything down
and look to see how much additional squelch had to be introduced to eliminate the added mush from
your machine. Typically it should not have needed more than 5 minutes or so of added rotation. It
should be noted that the use of squelch should always be the MINIMUM needed to kill mush, since any
more just deafens the receiver and shortens receive range. Good luck and may Murphy perish!

By Jan Zumwalt Page 18 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017


Suggested Smoothing Circuit to be added in the aircraft power supply which
may help to absorb AFI from the generator or the rectifier regulator.

The Electrolytic Capacitor must have a working voltage of at least 35vDC. (for 12vDC systems) The
capacitance value needs to be 20,000MFD. This value is hard to source these days, so it can be made up
of two 10,000MFD units connected in parallel (pos to pos and neg to neg). Maplin do have a suitable
capacitor: Code: LE04E - Order Line: 0870 429 6000

By Jan Zumwalt Page 19 of 19 Rev - November 25, 2017