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Non-Directional Beacon is a radio navigational aid used by the aircraft all over the world for finding
directions while flying from one point to other. Discovery of radio and ability of detecting its source of
emission, utilizing directional antenna, led to the development of NDB. It is the simplest and oldest
system, which has for many years played a vital role in the navigation system for both aeronautical
and maritime uses and will probably do so for many years to come.

Non-Directional Beacon is a ground station that transmits a low frequency or medium frequency
signal, which is radiated Omni-directionally in the horizontal plane (azimuth), with vertical polarization.
There is no coded navigation information inside the signal apart from the station identification in
Morse code that repeats 7 times per minute. The NDB receiver in the aircraft gives the pilot
information of the “bearing” to the NDB transmitter stations, which are located in the air-routes or at
the airports. Bearing is the horizontal angular displacement in clockwise direction with respect to
North. In addition to the directional information the NDB station also gives indication when the aircraft
is passing overhead a station, i.e., the NDB station provides a position fix overhead indicated by a
decrease in field strength and an abrupt change of indicator needle by 180. The NDB is widely used
because they are:

# Inexpensive
# Simple electronics and easy for maintenance
# Omni-directional information
# Responsibility of accuracy mainly depends upon airborne receiver.


NDB is simply a radio transmitter that transmits tone modulated RF signal in the LW/MW frequency
band with station identification seven times per minute. Volume-1 of ICAO Annex-10 to the
convention on International Civil Aviation Organization states that, "The radio frequencies assigned to
NDB's shall be selected from those available in the portion of the spectrum between 190 KHz and
1750 KHz. The frequencies being used for NDB can vary from zone to zone. As the frequency band
from 525 to 1605 KHz is widely used for Radio Broadcasting, most of the frequencies for NDB's are
selected below 525 kHz within 200 to 415 kHz. The signal is amplitude modulated at 95% by a station
identification audio tone in Morse code (A2), which repeats 7 times per minute to identify a station.
The identification tone consists of two to three letters. The frequency of the modulating tone can be
either 400Hz or 1020Hz. Each letter is separated by a dash. For example: The Kathmandu NDB at
the Tribhuvan International Airport is coded as KAM, which in Morse code translates as:

dash dot dash dash dot dash dash dash dash


In the aircraft, a receiver called Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) automatically displays the station
bearing as soon as it is tuned to a NDB station. The Automatic Direction Finder uses the Loop Aerial
that has a specific direction finding property. Depending upon the orientation of the loop aerial,
signals in its output varies greatly. A loop aerial possesses the following properties.


Direction finding maybe carried out in any region of radio spectrum, though certain frequencies are
specifically allotted for radio navigation purpose. In aviation only LF/MF and VHF are used for radio
direction finding. LF/MF are used for NDB ground stations whereas VHF is used for finding the
direction of the aircraft from the ground. The technical features of direction finders operating in
various frequencies naturally differ, but the fundamental principles remain the same. In the LF/MF,
due to comparatively very large wave length, so called LOOP ANTENNA is extensively used. Loop
Antennas are highly directional in property, which could be derived mathematically as follows:

Consider a rectangular loop antenna of length “a” and width “b” with its plane vertical mounted so that
it can be rotated about its vertical axis. Let there be a vertically polarized electromagnetic wave “E”
incident on it, coming from a direction making an angle “” with the plane of the loop at its center.


a e2 e1 CD

b/2 ½ b Cos

A D AB b/2


The source is assumed to be so far away that the incident wave is a plane wave. Voltages are
induced in the vertical members of the loop, but not in the horizontal members as the wave is
vertically polarized. The magnitude of the voltage induced in the two vertical members is therefore
a.e1 and a.e2, where e1 and e2 are the magnitude of electrical field in rms. The voltages in the two
members will not be in phase, as can be seen from the diagram since the arrival times will not be the
same. Taking the electrical field at the center of the loop as the reference, the voltage induced in AB
lags by an angle , and that induced in CD leads by , where  being the phase difference of the
arriving signal with respect to center of the loop. Considering  = 2 and difference in path length is
½ b Cos. Then phase difference equivalent to path length is

 = 2. b Cos = .bCos

 2 

If the electric field at the center e(t) = E Cos t then voltages induced in two vertical members will
be :

e1 = aE Cos (t - b Cos )

e2 = aE Cos (t + b Cos )

Therefore resultant voltage at the output of the loop antenna will be
e = e1 – e2 = aE Cos (t - b Cos ) - aE Cos (t + b Cos )
 
e = 2 aE. Sin t . Sin b Cos

Since “b” is very small in comparison to  then we could do approximation as

Sin b Cos = b Cos

 

Hence e = 2E . ab Sin t. Cos

From the above formula we could make the following conclusions:

a) Output of the loop antenna is dependent of the incident angle “”. When the plane of the loop
antenna is perpendicular to the incident radio signal , i.e. when “” is 90 the output from the
loop is zero and maximum when “” is 0

b) Output from the loop antenna will increase when the dimensions “a” and “b” will increase. That is,
output is directly proportional to the area of the loop. Accordingly, if there are “N” turns in the loop
then output voltage will also increase by “N” times.
Accordingly, a Loop Aerial may have two distinct positions as follows:
Null Position
If the plane of the loop is at right angle to the direction of the waves coming from the radio beacon,
the two sides of the loop will be at the same distance from the station. Thus the signals will arrive at
the same time without any phase difference, causing current induced in both sides of the loop to be
the same. However, since they are opposite in direction, they will cancel each other producing no rf
output from the antenna. This is the null position of the loop aerial.

rf waves

Min. or no signal

Maximum Position

If the plane of the loop aerial becomes parallel to the direction of the waves, signals will reach at both
sides with maximum difference in phase. That will produce maximum signal strength.

Max. phase difference

rf waves

Max. signal

The Null position is preferred in direction finding because:

# It is easy to determine a null than a maximum

# It is more accurate and sharper.


There are always two null positions and two maximum positions for a loop antenna. The loop aerial
will always receive the same signal by turning it to 180 degrees. This may create confusion about a
station and there will be an ambiguity of 180 degrees regarding the direction of the station.

The ambiguity is solved in the modern aircraft receivers by addition of another non-directional
antenna for sensing. The ADF receiver uses a rotating loop antenna, which gives the figure of eight
pattern, and a fixed sense antenna that gives an Omni-directional pattern.

The figure of eight pattern from the loop antenna has positive (+) and negative (-) phase as indicated
below. The sensing antenna has omni-directional circular pattern with (+) phase. The composite
pattern therefore will be a cardioid as shown below.

Circular pattern
- +

Figure of eight pattern

When pilot tunes to an NDB station the ADF loop antenna automatically turns the indicator towards
the direction of the station with reference to magnetic north. This is interpreted in the needle as the
Radio Magnetic Bearing Indication.

The Automatic Direction Finders (ADF) are manufactured with either analog or digital display. In
either case, in ADF receiver, bearing information is presented on either a Relative Bearing Indicator
(RBI) or the more complex Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI).

1.4.1 Relative Bearing Indicator :

This is the simplest type of display, shows the pilot the bearing of the tuned NDB transmitter relative
to the axis of the aircraft. The RBI is measured clockwise in degrees (O - 360) from the nose of the
aircraft. See Figure above.

1.4.2 Radio Magnetic Indicator:

This instrument displays the magnetic bearing of the NDB as well as the heading of the
aircraft. Therefore it is more convenient for the pilots. The figure above shows the method of
measuring RMI.

By using relative or magnetic bearings, NDB can be utilized for various navigation purposes.
Depending upon their use and where they are placed.

5.1 Homing: NDB is installed at the vicinity of the airport. Aircraft find their way to the airport by
tracking on to the beacon.

5.2 En-route: NDB is installed in between the airports on the prescribed routes.
Sometimes the beacon may be offset from the route. However, by using relative bearing a position fix
can be determined.

5.3 Holding: Such an NDB is called Locator Beacon and is placed a few miles away from the airport
area. Aircraft circle the beacon at different heights waiting for permission to land.

5.4 Instrument approach: NDB is installed on the center line of the runway. Aircraft
make straight-in approach by using the NDB.


Although there are now several more accurate navigational systems available on other radio
frequency bands, the NDB is still used in every country in the world, and will continue to do so for
many more years to come. The reasons are obvious which can be outlined as follows:

# Very simple air-borne and ground equipment

# Inexpensive to install and maintain
# Omni-directional information
# Any number of aircraft can use the same radio beacon
# Responsibility of accuracy mainly depends on airborne receiver
# Multi-purpose uses


Like any other equipment, NDB also have its own limitations. If an NDB is used under certain
condition pilots may get sometime large and potentially dangerous bearing errors. Therefore, NDB
cannot be considered as a precision aid and should be used with caution. The principal factors liable
to affect the NDB performance are as follows:

1.7.1.Quadrantal Error: Due metallic portions of the aircraft the radio waves get deflected. Error
produced by such a phenomenon is called quadrantal error because it is maximum in all four
quadrants. Quadrantal error differs for one aircraft to other, which can be corrected by using the
correction curve for that particular aircraft.

Max error Max error

Max. error Max. error

A typical quadrantal error curve:

0 90 180 270 360


1.7.2. Coastal refraction:

In coastal areas the differing radio energy absorption properties of land and water result in refraction
of NDB transmissions. This causes error, known as coastal refraction. It is most marked when
transmission cross the coastline at an angle other than right angle and when the transmitting station
is located away from the coast. If the angle is less than 30 the error gets worst. Therefore NDB's in
the coastal areas should be used with utmost caution.

True bearing

Apparent bearing
Land Sea

1.7.3. Night Effect:

At night, in addition to the interference that can occur due to transmissions from different stations, it is
possible to receive the ground wave signals contaminated by the sky wave signals from the same
station. This will give rise to bearing errors of varying magnitudes depending on the heights of the
ionized layers and the polarization of the signals on arrival at the receiver. Night effect is especially
most marked during the twilight hours when skywave contamination can cause fading of signal
strength, which will cause wandering of the ADF bearing needle.

1.7.4. Mountain effect:

ADF receivers may be subject to errors caused by the reflection and refraction of the transmitted
radio waves in mountainous areas. High ground between the aircraft and the beacon may increase
the errors especially at low altitudes.

1.7.5. Static interference: All kinds of precipitation, including falling snow and thunderstorm can cause
static interference of varying intensity to the ADF receivers. Precipitation reduces the effective range
and accuracy of bearing information. Thunderstorm can produce errors of considerable magnitude
including even entirely false indication. Indeed it is often said that in an area affected by thunderstorm
activity, the ADF bearing pointer would rather indicate the direction of thunder than the NDB station.

1.7.6. Lack of failure warning system:
Because of lack of failure warning devices on ADF receivers, failure of an NDB station may produce
wrong indication which will go unnoticed. Constant monitoring and hearing of identification signal is
the only way to detect the failure of the ground station.


An NDB may be located on or adjacent to the airport. If it is used as an approach aid then it should be
located on the centerline of the runway. In any case, the siting criterion is not very complicated.
However, the following should be observed:

The NDB site should be smooth, level and well drained. The antenna system should not penetrate the
approach or transitional surfaces of the airport. There should be no metal buildings, power lines or
heavy metal fences around the NDB station at a distance closer than 100 feet.


NDB antennas are similar to normal LW/MW antennas. Because of dominating transmission by the
ground wave, vertically polarization is necessary. Hence vertical wires or self-supporting structures
are the solution. Since, NDB operating frequency is in order of only a few hundred KHz, the practical
length of an antenna must be much lower than /4 wave length. For example, for an NDB station
working on 250 KHz, its wavelength will be:

 = 300/ 0.250 = 1200 meters

or /4 = 300 meters

To erect an antenna 300 meters tall is not only very expensive but also prohibited near the airport
areas due to possible obstruction to the aircraft. In practice much shorter antennas (from 20 to 40
meters) are used. Because the antennas are relatively very short they are always capacitive in
nature. Therefore, to resonate a NDB antenna some tuning inductance must be used. As described
above, NDB antennas are vertically polarized. Therefore the radiator is kept in vertical position from
ground. The earth acts as an image to the radiator. To increase the capacitance of the antenna, a
ground radial system has to be provided. A ground radial system, which is also called counterpoise,
is a system of copper wires buried approximately 15 cm below the surface of the ground. The size
and shape of the counterpoise will vary with the type of antenna system used. Normally the wires are
laid at 5 to 10from the center, just below the radiator. Fig. 2.1-M below shows a typical ground
counterpoise of an NDB.

1.9.1Radiation pattern
The polar diagram of an NDB antenna radiation is shown below. It is Omnidirectional in the horizontal
plane (H-plane) and directive in vertical plane (E-plane). Theoretically there is maximum gain along
the earth surface, but in practice we will have maximum field strength at some angle from
the surface due to losses in the ground wave component.


(H-plane) (E-plane)

Polar diagram of NDB antenna

1.9.2 Types of antennas

A very simple, effective and widely used NDB antenna is T-antenna, which is illustrated below. The
vertical wire is, of course, the actual radiating element and the horizontal wire provides additional
antenna capacitance to the ground. To increase the capacitance of the antenna three or more parallel
wires are used in the horizontal portion. The normal height of T-antenna is approximately 20 to 30
meters. Sometimes an inverted L-antenna is also used. However, it is more sensitive to unwanted
horizontally polarized electric field component compared to a T-antenna.

The self-supporting mast or a mast radiator is also a popular NDB antenna. The normal height of
such an antenna is 20 to 40 meters. Top-loaded insulated guy wires increase capacitance. Such an
antenna is more efficient than a T-antenna and therefore widely used for long range NDB as well as
MW/LW broadcasting.

For locator beacons or for the beacons used for approach purposes, since the coverage required is
very small, relatively short antennas are used. One of such antennas is Umbrella type. It is a small
self supporting mast radiator with several top-loading elements like an umbrella. The top loading
increases the capacitance of the antenna, hence it becomes easier to resonate. The normal height of
an umbrella antenna is not more than 12 meters.


Top loading


shelter 20 m

12.5 m 30 m 12.5 m GND


(Fig. 2.1-L)

Copper wire buried 15 cm under ground

5 to 10 degrees


Mast radiator

Top capacitance


Top loading


wooden pole antenna




The radiation resistance of an NDB antenna is very low and equals to only a few ohms. If it were
possible to match a source of radio frequency energy so that all the power is dissipated into the
radiation resistance then these antennas would have been equally efficient as one with much higher
radiation resistance. However, in practice the total loss resistance of the antenna is much higher than
the radiation resistance. Therefore, most of the energy gets wasted and the efficiency of the antenna
becomes too low.

There are several factors that affect the efficiency of an NDB antenna. These are briefly described

1.10.1 Antenna Reactance :

NDB antennas are capacitive in nature. The capacitance of antenna is important to know because it
provides the basis for knowing the amount of tuning inductance required for resonance.

Since, for resonance : L =1/ C

Smaller capacitance will need bigger inductance, causing more loss of energy in the conductor. Thus
the capacitance of an antenna should be as higher as possible. This can be done either by increase
in height of the antenna, or simply by additional top-loading. The second option is more economical
and favourable. The capacitance of an electrically short vertical antenna may be calculated by the
use of well known transmission line formula. For a simple vertical radiator (insulated from ground)
having a height “H” from the ground and diameter “D”, its capacitance can be roughly calculated from
the following formula:

C = 5766 X Tan θ
Log 2H
Here C in pF, H and D in feet, and θ- electrical length of the radiator in degree.

The following table gives approximate values of a vertical radiator without top loading in pF. From this
it is evident that antenna capacitance is dependent of vertical height and diameter of the radiator

Antenna diameter in inches

Antenna Height (ft) 0.1 1 12
50 90 120 184
75 131 170 254
100 167 219 308
150 245 314 451
200 322 428 654
250 399 504 795

Where antenna length is desirable to keep short, top loading is used. This greatly increases the
capacitance of the antenna thereby reducing the requirement of large antenna tuning inductance.
Additional capacitance generated by top loading in a T-antenna can be calculated as follows:

C = 5766 X Tan (0.07315L)

Log 4H

Here C in pF, H, L and D in feet. L – Length of top loading wire.

1.10.2 Radiation resistance :

The base radiation resistance is another important characteristic. It is a characteristic, which has a
direct relationship to the radiated power and consequently to effective range of the NDB. Because the
NDB antennas are electrically very short (less than 30), the current distribution along the antenna is
linear and radiation resistance may be calculated to reasonably close approximation by the formula:

R =  /328 , where  is the electric length of the antenna in degree.  = 360


With the above formula it is evident that by increasing the length of the antenna its radiation
resistance increases, and hence the efficiency increases. See following table.

Radiation resistance in Ohms

Antenna Height (ft) 200KHz 300KHz 450KHz
50 0.041 0.092 0.206
75 0.092 0.207 0.466
100 0.163 0.367 0.825
150 0.367 0.825 1.857
200 0.657 1.467 3.300
250 1.020 2.295 5.164

1.10.3 Antenna Q :

Antenna system Q is the ratio of the reactance of the antenna capacitance to the antenna total
system resistance. It is always preferable to keep the Q as low as possible to reduce losses in the
antenna system.

Since Q = Xc/R ,

Q can be reduced by increasing capacitance of the aerial. I.e. by addition of top loading or by
increasing the height. NDB transmitters are usually required to have a bandwidth of at least 2X1020
Hz. 1020 Hz being the max ident frequency.

Bandwidth = f/Q

Therefore, at 300 KHz Q = 300,000/2040 = 147

Which means a Q of 147 at 300 KHz NDB station will insure that the ident modulation will be radiated
without any distortion. If bandwidth of the antenna is low ( Q is high) then instead of 1020 Hz ident
modulation of 400Hz should be used.

1.10.4 Expected range

NDB antenna should be designed in such a way that it should radiate reliable signal up to the
required coverage area. ICAO has specified that in the coverage areas the field strength should not
be less than 70V per meter. Between the latitudes 30N and 30S field strength of 120V may be

1.10.5 Voltage at the antenna base

The peak voltage at the antenna base for usual NDB is :

V = IA x XC Where IA - Antenna current and XC - Antenna reactance.

Example: For an NDB with T-antenna top loaded with three wires and 50 ft high and 100 watts
transmitter C = 581 pF and antenna Current IA = say 7 Amps
at 200KHz XC = 1370 Ohm
then V = 9590 Volts

For the same antenna without additional top loading, C = 90 pF  XC = 8842 

Hence V = 61,894V

This amount of voltage is difficult to contain and would probably cause considerable difficulty due to
corona, flashover, etc. Therefore the antenna capacitance of an NDB antenna should be kept around
500 pF or more.

Conclusion : To increase the efficiency and to improve the performance of an NDB antenna its
capacitance should be as high as possible and should be more than 500pF at the lower
frequencies. This can be achieved either by increasing the height of the antenna or by
providing additional top loading.


The NDB transmitter is relatively very simple equipment. The RF carrier is amplitude modulated either
by 400Hz or by 1020 Hz tone, which is coded with two to three letters station identification in Morse
Code. A simplified block diagram is shown in Fig. 2.1-Q:



A monitor equipment monitors the performance of the radiating signal. Radiation is done in A0/A2
mode. Depending upon the use an NDB could be classifies as one of the following:

High Power: usable range extends up to 400 NM. Radio beacons of this type are considered as en-
route or homing radio navigational aids. The transmitter output is normally 100W to 5KW.
Low Power : usable range extends from 10 NM to 25 NM. Radio beacons of this type are called
locators and are normally used for approach or holding purposes. The transmitter output power is
kept below 100W.


Normally the NDB beacon has two transmitters and two monitors, i.e. dual equipment system.
Monitor analyzes the radiated signal and checks the following:

# Gives alarm if the transmitted carrier power is reduced more than 3dB. i.e. 50%

# Gives alarm if the identification signal is removed or continuous by any reason.

# Gives alarm if the monitor itself becomes faulty.

When one of the above conditions occurs the monitor unit commands the changeover unit to shut
sown the faulty transmitter and to start the standby. The NDB stations are normally unattended, which
are monitored for a failure by the technicians through radio. To distinguish main transmitter from
standby normally the main is modulated with 1020 Hz and the standby with 400Hz.