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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 ohms so it will look good on the shack SWR meter and support amps with limited matching range.

A Little History

Since publishing the NCJ article in May 2012 we have engaged in correspondence, a hundred or so threads a year. This email or phone or in-person communication was related to the 5/16 Wave Single Wire Folded Counterpoise more commonly known as the FCP.

We quickly realized most FCP installers were using the inverted L for their 160m aerial wire. That was their choice.

Installers put up an L because they had seen them working before, and because in mechanical and practical terms an inverted L was doable on their property. Experience and struggle-produced 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.

Most of our early correspondents were asking about getting their new aerial wire + FCP tuned up and looking good. "Looking good" meant a comforting and amp-compatible 1:1 50Ω SWR in the shack. In solving these issues, it became clear:

Most problems at Inverted-L-over-FCP sites were not with the FCP. Issues were the L itself, its local environment and a method for a 50Ω resistive feed from a suddenly efficient 20Ω to 35Ω 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 insult anyone, the suspicion persists that largely hams still know little about an inverted L. Its 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. 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.

Multibanding:   160+80   160+80+40

80 meters can be added to the L/FCP without changes to the aerial wire. The L is used on 80 as an end-fed half-wave, a best-performing single wire antenna for both local and DX, with advantages over dipoles, inverted V's and simple verticals. The pattern is fairly omnidirectional. This modification adds the complexity of matching and band switching at the feedpoint. See .

To add 40 meters to a 160/80 L over FCP, a 35.5 foot wire is attached to the bend, running beneath and gradually dropping to 5.5 feet below the horizontal wire. The augmented inverted L is called a "Trident L" for the three wires, vertical, horizontal and "Trident".

The modification increases the complexity of the aerial wire itself, and of the band switching and impedance matching. But the reward for the complexity is an excellent 160/80/40 antenna that only occupies the single airspace and footprint of the L/FCP. The FCP short, feedpoint to center of the third fold, already switching the FCP to 80m operation, also serves 40m.

The 40m favored directions cover 270 contiguous degrees with the same weaker quadrant as 160m. For critical aerial wire details and how they generate the 40m pattern see .

You can listen for K2AV on his relocated Inverted L, now a Trident L, which is a very medium size, medium height L. The L is up 66 feet (55 over FCP at 11). It's tuned with Method B using a "heavy" 4 inch toroid with 22:28 turns ratio.

The original K2AV L over FCP was a 3/8 wave L, up 90 out 105 foot L, out 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 relocated K2AV now-Trident L on many small properties with some 50-60-70 foot trees.

**Please do not interpret the K2AV dimensions as this web site's "recommended" wire lengths and height for an inverted L over an FCP.** Study the design principles in . The K2AV dimensions were generated by applying the principles in Design an Inv L to K2AV's circumstances. If you use K2AV's dimensions you may be selling yourself short. **KNOW THE REASONS WHY** K2AV used those dimensions, and then design for YOUR situation.

Aside from using an FCP as the counterpoise, nearly all the issues and countermeasures listed in "Your Shrinking RF", also known as "The Loss List", were developed with correspondents and tabulated after the old K2AV L went up. Loss List items have all been addressed in the new K2AV L, mostly were never addressed in the old L. Some Loss List items would have been very difficult to remedy at the old site.

The smaller new K2AV now-Trident L clearly outperforms the old K2AV L on 160, most obviously to Europe and west coast USA. K2AV says it's nice not to mourn losing the old site to the power company. During the same twenty minute time span in summertime 03Z CWT contests, K2AV had 160m EU RBN spots and 160m QSOs with California stations. That never happened on the old L.

While it's not possible to assign comparison dB benefits to each individual change between the two, being unable to rank individual changes does not diminish enjoying the new L's obvious total 160m 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 degree. The hyper-emphasis below, indicating the literary equivalent of jumping up and down, 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.

**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.


Breaking Down the Task

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

    1) Read and understand
    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.
  • **Loss should be remedied before tuning work** because successful loss countermeasures usually modify 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...

    1) The inverted L is coupling secondary conductors in the near field, "pulling" the impedance. The degree to which secondary conductors re-radiate the induced energy

    2) The inverted L has a lot of dielectric and/or resistive loss somewhere in the near field, possibly 15 to 30 ohms effective series loss in that 50 ohms, producing 1.5 to 4 dB potential recoverable loss.

    The new K2AV L's R at X=0 varies from a winter 31 to summer 38 ohms. 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 installing wind-pull damping on the far end of the new L.

    A wind-driven varying R on an inverted L can be obscured by a lot of unfixed loss issues. The almost 1:1 SWR from a 54 ohm L with 20 ohms of excess loss, varying from 50-58 ohms in the wind will not vary SWR that much. An efficient 34 ohm feedpoint R varying from 30-38 ohms will appear more affected by the wind. The steadier SWR will actually be the significantly poorer performer.

  • Unremedied loss factors predict poorer L/IsoT/FCP performance. A seemingly hard idea 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.

  • **An ideal quarter wave inverted L is efficiently constructed, and out-in-the-open: away from miscellaneous conductors and without dielectric mass inside its bend or close to its conductors. Such an ideal inverted L at self-resonance is not a natural 50 ohm antenna. Typical values range from 20 to 35 ohms. Occasional extremely efficient installations measure in the teens, with as much as 4:1 SWR to 50 ohm coax, requiring matching to 50 ohms at the feedpoint.**

  • **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 feedpoint with a natural 20-35 ohm R where X = 0.

    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 50 ohm 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 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, various models, portable, R,X and other graphical presentations, 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 self-contained with all required features. After setting center frequency and range, remaining work can be done with "Scan R,X" and "Display All" menu items. 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. Other models are available with additional features and cost.

    AIM family 4170, 4300, etc, previously from W5BIG.com and dealers. Presentation from Windows PC. Portable only with windows tablet or small laptop running software. These have been around for a long while, rock solid to those who are used to and equipped for them. No longer sold retail.

    Mini Radio Solutions "miniVNA Pro2", two port VNA, requires Windows PC or Android smart phone for presentation. Contains Lithium Ion battery and Bluetooth. Charging via USB. Communication to Windows or Android via USB or Bluetooth. Allows placing VNA at height without connecting wires to interfere with normal operation of VNA or "pulling" the antenna off its true parameters. Supplied PC programming is Java-script. App supplied for Android.

    DG8SAQ VNA from SDR-Kits. This is the 2 port VNA per se only. Uses supplied software runing on Windows or Linux computer for presentation. Connection and power via USB cable. To be portable requires a Windows or Linux tablet or laptop. But quite inexpensive if you have the computer.

    Tuning Methods.

    In "An Unhappy Example" above, a graphing RF analyzer would simply show X crossing zero at 1.837, where R=35. For purposes of illustration let's assume that our center frequency of choice below is always 1.825 MHz. Using the graphing analyzer you 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, possible 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.

    Note: Do not change FCP dimensions to tune antenna. Clearly reduces performance. Already tried in 2010 with significant RF loss by K2AV and W0UCE, who still had a lot to learn.

    Tuning Method Details.

    Method A: Prune/extend horizontal for R = 50 then tune out X. Note: Limit prune/extend of the horizontal (horizontal + drooper) to ±3 ft (±1m) to remain in the performance sweet range. Larger adjustments gradually reduce performance.

    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, in series use a transmit power level variable capacitor or (rarely) a tapped or variable inductor at the base of the vertical wire to adjust the X to zero at 1.825.

    Wire length and capacitor adjustments may interact a bit, repeat the process if needed. A vacuum variable capacitor is commonly used for QRO. Air gap variable capacitors are sometimes used for lower power levels, but must be protected from dampness.

    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 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.

    To obtain sufficient current rating in fixed transmitting capacitance, multiple identical caps can be used in parallel. Better to have the combined current rating well in excess of calculated max than discovering insufficient rating in the middle of a contest in a blizzard or rainstorm.

    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.

    Method A disadvantages: A project box is needed at the antenna to house a vacuum variable or fixed cap, or 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.
    Note: Limit the horizontal (horizontal + drooper) prune/extend to ±3 ft (±1m) to remain in the performance sweet range.
    Larger adjustments gradually reduce performance.

    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.

    Given the ease of pulling out one turn through the core at either end of the antenna/FCP winding and reconnecting, it's possible this easy reduction of two turns may make the SWR curve "good enough" on a thirty something ohm L/FCP. Restoring the two turns to original state is easy if the wire has not been yet trimmed. Removing a center turn is more "interesting" mechanically, and obviously hard to return to original state once the wire is split.

    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, finer steps in R adjustments are possible with turns ratios like 20/19, 21/19, 21/18, 22/18, etc.

    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 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 vicinity of 50 + j0. Use a larger feedline, RG213 minimum or small hardline. Use a stand-alone or built-in tuner in the shack.

    Larger coax, better small hardline, will have less center conductor or shield 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 did 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.

    The offending SO239 and PL259 terminated RG213 at the ATR-30 was replaced with 7/16 DIN connections and LDF4-50A 1/2 inch hardline on one antenna connection. Now the ATR-30 tuner, connectors and hardline can handle an efficient 8:1 SWR at 1.5 kW at 1.999 MHz. The arrangement is stable and a table of tuner settings vs. frequency allows reliable tune by the numbers.

    This works well for run frequencies above 1.9 in 160 SSB contests, or regular QSO's up in the high end. With an antenna feed point tuned to 1.83, search and pounce bouncing randomly all over the band needs the preset auto-tuner of the KPA1500 and power out reduced to 1000 watts out above 1.95 MHz.

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