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Taming the Exasperating Inverted L

In this section:
1) As much as we can, we make any improvements, clean up any loss and detuning issues in and around the inverted L to make it as efficient as we can.

**When we're done doing all that,**

2) We use one of various methods to match the L's feedpoint to 50 ohm coax so it will look good on the shack SWR meter and support amps with limited matching range.

A Little History

Between publishing the NCJ article in May 2012 and year end 2016, we engaged in over 250 person-to-person email, phone or in-person communication threads related to the 5/16 Wave Single Wire Folded Counterpoise more commonly known as the FCP. It quickly became clear the inverted L is the predominant aerial wire of choice among those installing FCP's.

Installers put up an L because they had seen them before, and because in mechanical and practical terms an inverted L was doable on their property. Experience and struggle-begotten inverted L understandings have taught us that an L over FCP can be tamed, saddle-broken into an excellent antenna. This still-evolving section lays out the details of the taming.

Among other questions, initially most of our correspondents were asking about getting their new aerial wire + FCP tuned up and looking good. Looking good mainly meant getting Z = 50 + j0 at the feedpoint, so they could see a comforting and amp-compatible 1:1 SWR in the shack.

In dealing with these communications, it became clear most issues at inverted L sites had nothing to do with the FCP. The issues had to do with the L. Installers, in the beginning very much including K2AV and W0UCE, simply didn't know much about an inverted L. Though we would not want to impugn anyone, the suspicion persists that largely hams still know little about an inverted L. It's mechanical simplicity is an effective disguise for its true complexity.

Working with these correspondents and their problems unearthed priceless information probably not discoverable any other way. The emerged from that experience, and we hope to pass it all on to the reader without the bafflement, expense and frustrating poking in the dark to gain understanding starting from zero.

Completely cleaned up, a common quarter-wave-ish inverted L over FCP with an isolation transformer (L/IsoT/FCP) is a very strong performing antenna. It is probably the most effective 160 aerial wire possible at many locations, with simple support requirements. Without doing anything to the aerial wire, it can also be dual-banded to use on 80 meters as an end-fed half-wave-ish L, arguably the best single wire 80 meter performance antenna for both local and DX.

You can listen for K2AV on his new relocated Inverted L, which is a quite ordinary medium size, medium height L/IsoT/FCP, up 66 feet (55 over FCP at 11) out 88 feet. The prior K2AV L was a 3/8 wave L, a larger, higher up 90 out 105 foot L next to the service road. But the Town of Apex, North Carolina ran a 13 kV primary power line down the service road within 25 feet of the old L. That forced relocating the L to a pair of trees up near the house. You could find or erect the mechanical equal to the new K2AV L on many small properties with some 50-60-70 foot trees.

Aside from using an FCP as the counterpoise, nearly all the issues and countermeasures listed in the "Your Shrinking RF" were developed with correspondents and tabulated after the old K2AV L went up. Those have been addressed in the new K2AV L, mostly not addressed in the old L.

The new and smaller K2AV L does in fact clearly outperform the old K2AV L. K2AV says it's nice not to mourn losing the old site. Some loss list items would be very difficult to remedy at the old site.

While it's not possible to assign comparison dB benefits to individual changes between the two, being unable to rank individual changes does not at all detract from enjoying the combined improvement to Europe and the USA West Coast.

This section treats numerous issues that have flummoxed hams trying to use inverted L's. It includes taking a careful, detailed look at your planned or existing station looking for loss and other issues that have defeated other installers.

You may have read all you can take in today, but if you are going to use the ubiquitous inverted L, DO come back later rested, and take on this section and There is much to be gained.

(1) Cleaning up and (2) Tuning up your Inverted L
Don't Do (2) Without Doing (1) First

Pay special attention to items throughout marked **Like This** which are murk and confusion factors from correspondence on inverted L over FCP. These warnings are repeated all around this web site to make sure they are seen, so many times do they recur as confusion issues in correspondence.

Two particular warning items stand out starkly from the rest as singular roots of misinformation, confusion and discouragement. These two warnings are involved in easily 2/3 of our correspondence. They are somehow readily forgotten by correspondents who can need multiple reminders over the course of their project. Initially some correspondents are not convinced either of these warnings are true. We have no explanation why these particular two persist to afflict novice and old-timer alike to such effect. The hyper-emphasis below, indicating
screaming at the top of our voices while waving lit highway flares, is deliberate. For cause. No apologies for screaming over the internet will be forthcoming.

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**An Efficient Self-resonant Inverted L
is NOT a natural 50 ohm antenna**

Not even close. Think 20 to 35 ohms.
Varies with dimensions and environment.

**Lower SWR does NOT
predict improved performance**

A dummy load has perfect SWR and at 100% loss
is a worse antenna than a light bulb.

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Breaking Down the Task

  • Taming the exasperating inverted L falls into six areas, **definitely best done in order**:

    1) Read and understand the loss list in
    2) Evaluate the existing/planned station using the loss list.
    3) Decide and fix the loss list items that can be accomplished or avoided by design.
    4) Understand why SWR can't be used to analyze and adjust the Inverted L (see below).
    5) Understand what equipment to use for analyzing the antenna (see below) and if not owned, purchase or arrange for use or borrow an owner and his equipment for duration of project.
    6) Only at the end perform tuning and matching work.
    When tuning and matching has been done to the existing system before getting to these steps, loss remedy can easily make SWR worse, confusing or discouraging the installer. This has happened many times and is our top-ranked warning for a loss mitigation project, with nothing in second place.
  • **Loss should be remedied before tuning work** because successful loss countermeasures usually modify the 160 feedpoint resistance and reactance, sometimes a lot.

    One common example occurs doing a "160m de-resonance" loss mitigation on nearby 80/40 dipoles, vees, OCF doublets, etc. On 160 these radiating wires and feedline behave as a T or L parasitic element with a lot of the "vertical wire" (shield of feedline to dipole/vee/doublet) laying on the ground. This indirectly hard-couples the 160 antenna to lossy ground. These "weed" parasitic elements also "pull" the feed impedance/resonance of the 160 antenna, and in many cases make the 160 antenna poorly responsive to antenna adjustments (on the 160 antenna) that otherwise work well.

  • **An Efficient, Self-Resonant Inverted L is Low Z and Doesn't Match Coax Well.** A self-resonant, efficient inverted L without series caps or coils, or a built-on matching network, is going to display a feedpoint R of 20 to 35 ohms where X=0. If instead of 20-35 ohms, R at resonance is 50 ohms, the odds are very high that the inverted L has a lot of loss somewhere. It probably has from 15 to 30 ohms effective series loss in that 50 ohms, or 1.5 to 4 dB potential recoverable loss.

    The new K2AV L's R at X=0 varies from 31 to 38 ohms over the year. This L is 55 feet vertical plus 88 feet horizontal for 143 feet, longer than self-resonant. Factors are such as whether WX is dry for a while, or raining or ground is sopping wet, whether trees are leafed and full of sap. R can also vary in the wind with the varying distance from the horizontal wire to ground. Some of this variance at K2AV will be mitigated when K2AV gets around to re-installing the wind-pull damping from the far end of the old L onto the far end of the new L.

    A varying R on an inverted L can be covered up by a lot of unfixed loss issues. The nice almost 1:1 SWR from a 54 ohm L will be messed up when 20 ohms of excess loss is fixed and an efficient feedpoint R is now 34 ohms.

  • Unremedied loss factors predict poorer L/IsoT/FCP performance. A seemingly hard aspect for a new reader to grasp is the degree of 160 meter loss possible at their site. It is not that a station with a lot of site loss can't work long-haul DX running QRO, because they can when the path loss will permit it. 100 watts instead of 1500 will expose more weakness when path loss is high. As to running 100 watts in contests, replacing poor radials with an FCP and fixing other site losses can add the effect of an amp, without violating low power class rules. There is no penalty for an RF efficient antenna system.

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    Why you shouldn't use SWR to analyze and adjust the Inverted L.

  • **Lowering SWR does not predict improving L/IsoT/FCP performance. Removing sources of loss improves performance, regardless of changes in impedance.**

  • ** Do not use SWR at center frequency to attempt optimizing/tuning L/IsoT/FCP** You will need to see separate R and signed X values, especially when an efficient R is well under 50 ohms at zero X.

  • An installer almost always has an SWR meter in the shack made for 50 ohm coax. Unfortunately this SWR meter will tell lies about antennas that are not naturally 50 ohms.

    An electrical quarter wave of RG213 at 1.83 MHz is 88' or 27m. And on a small lot that SWR meter is very likely looking to a 160 antenna through an electrical quarter-wave-ish length of 50 ohm coax, 60, 80, 100 feet or 20, 25, 30 meters.

    An efficient 160 meter inverted L will have a natural 20-35 ohm feedpoint.

    Devilishly, that electrical quarter wave of RG213 will make an efficient 20-35 ohm R at the antenna appear as a gone-wild 125-72 ohms in the shack. It will make a capacitive reactance at the feedpoint look inductive in the shack and vice versa. This confusing distortion of the antenna's state is involved some way or another in many of our "can't get it to tune" correspondence threads.

  • Removing losses increases efficiency and performance, BUT most often ALSO

    1) moves the frequency where X=0,
    2) reduces feed R where X=0 and
    3) reduces SWR bandwidth.

    "An Unhappy Example"

    of why not to use SWR to de-loss and tune an inverted L: Suppose the beginning state at the antenna feed was R=50 ohms, zero reactance at 1.825 MHz, apparently a sweet state of antenna. Let's say that without changing antenna wire dimensions, doing the work to remove various loss issues dropped the R to 35 ohms and moved the X=0 point up to 1.837 (not uncommon).

    The drop in R means 15 ohms of the original 50 ohms was loss. That's 1.55 dB loss removed. You have significantly improved the efficiency and performance of the antenna. BUT the 50 ohm SWR transmitting on 1.825 went from 1:1 to 1.7:1. The best SWR obtainable anywhere on the band has gone from 1:1 at 1.825 to 1.3 at 1.837.

    In this example the greater the loss removed, the greater the increase in 50 ohm SWR at 1.825, apparently telling you everything you just did is wrong.

    If these measurements had been made in the shack at the end of a quarter-wave-ish length of coax, the results would have been even more confusing. The removal of 15 ohms loss dropping the feed R to 35 ohm would have been transformed to increasing the feed R to 70 ohms, making the 15 ohm improvement appear as a 20 ohms further degradation.

    By some means and with reasonable accuracy, you must be able to determine separate R and X values at the antenna, and scan/graph those values across the band, even if you have to do it on a piece of paper.

    What equipment to use for analyzing the antenna.

    Use an RF analyzer, a graphing analyzer if possible, that:

    RigExpert AA-30/54, portable, R,X graph and others, USB to PC for larger, detailed screen, saving and processing data for in-shack view of feedpoint state. At this writing, it appears to be the least expensive with all required features. Continuously variable Zref can only be set in software display. The 30 model is the cheapest but cannot store readings unless hooked to a PC or tablet while making measurements. The 54 model adds 6 meters and also has 100 memory slots to retain reading data for later transfer to PC.

    AIM family 4130, etc. Portable only with windows tablet or small laptop running software. These have been around for a while, rock solid to those who are used to and equipped for them.

    Tuning Methods.

    In "An Unhappy Example" above, a graphing RF analyzer would simply show X crossing zero at 1.837, where R=35. Let's assume for explanation only our center frequency of choice is 1.825 MHz. Using the graphing analyzer you would then have five basic strategies with possible combinations for matching the antenna feed to 50 ohm coax.

    Method A: Prune/extend horizontal for R = 50 then tune out X.

    Method B: Prune/extend horizontal for X = 0 then adjust isolation transformer turns ratio to approach R = 50.

    Method C: Non-resonant dimensions for best RF then matching network.

    Method D: Non-resonant dimensions for best RF then use coaxial series matching transformer as the coax to shack.

    Method T: Non-resonant dimensions for best RF, simple fixed components to moderate the Z from isolation transformer, larger feedline to shack, tuner in the shack.

    Note there may be significant work involved, some methods more work than others. In text below, 1.825 is used as a center point. Substitute your own desired center point.

    Method A: Prune/extend horizontal for R = 50 then tune out X.

    Method A1 Matching is done on the antenna side of the isolation transformer, but measured on the coax side of the isolation transformer to absorb non 1:1 aspects of the isolation transformer. Find the point on the graph where R (not Z) = 50 ohms. If that point is not 1.825, then prune/lengthen the L horizontal wire to move the R (not Z) = 50 ohms point to 1.825. Then depending on the sign of the X at 1.825, use a series capacitor or inductor (rare) at the base of the vertical wire to adjust the X to zero at 1.825. These adjustments may interact a bit, repeat the process if needed.

    Method A2 Same as A1, but does not require a vacuum variable capacitor. Place in series with the antenna a fixed high power, high current transmitting cap in series with a coil and move a tap on the coil to zero out X at the 50 ohm point. This narrows the SWR bandwidth a little. When using the RF analyzer, use receiving capacitors to determine the value just small enough to go with a tap on a 3 uH coil, this will allow you to determine the appropriate pF value of the capacitor.

    If the uncorrected inductive X value at R=50 is too low, method A1 has a blind spot where the required value of a single cap is too large to be practical. Add a series coil to increase the inductive reactance and bring the X correction into range of the cap. Or better, implement A2 and use the cap elsewhere. Either narrows the SWR bandwidth a little.

    Method A advantages: The Z = 50+j0 point can be set precisely at the transformer output, and then the series adjustment at the antenna can fine tune the 1.5:1 or 2:1 SWR range points in the shack to best advantage. Method A is compatible with the 160/80 dual banding extension. Method A2 can switch between different taps on the coil to cover multiple 1.5:1 SWR ranges on 160.

    Disadvantages: A project box is needed at the antenna to house a vacuum variable, fixed cap, coil as specified above. This makes a DIY isolation transformer, or ordering commercial transformer without the enclosure a good idea, to wire it into the box housing the cap.

    If You're Lucky: If a high power, high current 2000, 2200, or 3300 pf transmitting cap, together with pruning the horizontal/drooper produces results close enough for you, it all can be put in a plastic 6 x 6 enclosure, including transplanted hardware and guts of commercial transformer.

    Method B: Prune for X = 0 then adjust isolation transformer turns ratio to approach R = 50.

    Prune or lengthen the L horizontal wire to move the X=0 point to 1.825. You likely will have a somewhat different R value, say R = 38, after you do this. For R in the vicinity of 36 ohms you remove three turns from the antenna/FCP winding of the isolation transformer, one turn in the center, and one at each end. At this point you can prune/lengthen the horizontal wire to optimally place your 1.5:1 or 2:1 SWR range points in the shack.

    This method works because a turns ratio of 17:20 gives 17/20 = 0.85. 0.85 squared = 0.7225 impedance ratio. 0.7225 times 50 = 36.125 ohms on antenna to produce 50 ohms at coax connection to the shack.

    Advantages: It's dirt simple out at the antenna feedpoint after everything is done and closed up. Lacks the series capacitor blind spot in method A. Just another antenna with a 4" x 4" grey box between the antenna and counterpoise wires, with coax running off it to the shack. Can transform 36 to 70 ohms to 50 by removing end turns then center turn of one of the windings while still in the enclosure. Once 1:1 transformer results are known, more extreme reductions are possible with turns ratios like 20/20, 20/19, 21/19, 21/18, 22/18 with a more complex transformer winding procedure.

    Disadvantages: Working with turns ratios can be tedious, particularly when placing deleted turns evenly around the winding. Changes in the aerial and FCP may require redoing the winding. May make initial 160/80 dual band setup touchy if more than three dropped turns.

    Method C: Non-resonant dimensions for best RF then matching network.

    Build an adjustable L network matching network between the isolation transformer and coax to shack. Quite a few hams are capable of designing these, especially now with the collection of excellent network analysis and design programs available. This method may complicate dual-banding by requiring additional switched circuitry. This will have to be your own design project.

    Advantages: Assuming taps on coils or adjustable capacitors or both, easier to adjust after changes to antenna, as in unavoidable gradual implementation of loss list fixes.

    Disadvantages: 160/80 dual banding may require switching the network in and out, designing modifications for the 160/80 dual banding circuit to operate correctly.

    Method D: Non-resonant dimensions for best RF then coax series matching transformer as coax to shack.

    Build a coaxial series matching transformer, same strategy as Method C, but accomplishes the same in the coax running to the shack.

    Advantages: Useable with a stock DIY or commercial isolation transformer, giving the antenna the external simplicity of Method B without having to mess with turns ratio. For the dual band scheme, a simple one range on 160, one range on 80 version can be done easily since the dual banding scheme has an 80-meters-is-active voltage available, both in the station and out at the antenna. This is the voltage that energizes the FCP shorting relay on 80 meters.

    Disadvantages: Without some changes, cannot be used with 160/80 dual banding or 160 range-switching because the coax series matching transformer is a single frequency device, the coax lengths are specific to your antenna on a single 160 range of frequencies only. Switching for more than one range on a band would require switching separate coax runs for frequency switching.

    Method T: Non-resonant dimensions for best RF, simple components to moderate the Z at transformer output, larger coax, tuner in shack.

    Use any of various methods to convert antenna Z to the rough neighborhood of 50 + j0. Use a larger feedline, RG213 minimum. Better, use small hardline to the shack. Use a stand-alone or built-in tuner in the shack.

    Larger coax/hardline will have less conductor resistance where current maximums occur, reducing the dB loss at any power level.

    Advantages: For those always operating transceivers barefoot, a built-in auto-tuner may have excellent range. Adjust the minimal matching at the antenna to place and maximize the auto-tuner range. At K2AV the K3's built-in auto-tuner matches 1.8 to 1.9 at 1:1 and to 1.920 at 1.5:1.

    With a no-tuner outcome near 50+j0 at 1.830, some stand-alone tuners in the shack can match all the way to 2 MHz. At K2AV the ATR-30 can easily produce 1:1 SWR from the inverted L's 1.999 MHz 8:1 SWR at the shack. 100 watts is solid and effective. For those who operate CW and have regular low power up-band SSB contacts, impedance matching by the numbers in the shack may be all that is needed.

    Disadvantages:If an amplifier is used, a tuner in the shack may not stand up to voltages at the extreme frequencies. At K2AV this method does not stand up to more than 300 or 400 watts above 1.95 MHz due to voltages present, usually arcing across SO239 chassis connectors in the very solidly built ATR-30 tuner.

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