The Sky Loop Antenna

My present workhorse antenna is a sky loop antenna with a 635 feet perimeter. What exactly is a sky loop antenna? The traditional definition from ham radio circles is that it is a full wave loop antenna, oriented in the horizontal plane. They are often used on 160 and 80 meters. The length or perimeter of a full wave loop antenna is 1005 feet divided by the frequency in MHz. So for 160 meters, say 1.9 MHz, it would be 1005 / 1.9 = 529 ft. The exact size of the loop may be important if you’re transmitting and want a reasonable SWR. For receiving only, it is not as critical, and the “bigger is better” rule usually applies. I ended up with 635 feet because that is the largest length I could easily install.

Here is a diagram showing the dimensions and orientation of the antenna:

Reversing the formula to 1005 / length gives you the resonant frequency, 1.58 MHz in my case, which is the top end of the MW band. From my experience, the antenna works great for the upper end of MW, especially the extended band (1610-1700), adequate for the middle of the MW band, and it produces very weak signals at the lower end of the MW band. I’ve yet to hear any transatlantic longwave stations with it.

The gain of a loop antenna is proportional to the area. While I don’t have enough space to substantially increase the perimeter of the antenna, I could add perhaps 200 feet at the most. An additional 200 feet would drop the resonant frequency to 1.2 MHz, but I’d substantially increase the area, so it may be a worthwhile project.

The height of the antenna varies dramatically, with some points barely 15 ft above the ground, others are around 40 ft. Again, this was what I could easily achieve. Raising sections of the antenna is a planned Spring project, it will be interesting to see what the improvement, if any, is.

The antenna is constructed from #16 insulated stranded wire, and is suspected from trees around the yard. The feedpoint is a 16:1 balun, and 100 feet of 75 ohm RG-6 coax runs from the balun to the shack. I’ve become a big fan of RG-6 coax for my antenna projects. This is the coax used for TV purposes. It’s available everywhere, and is incredibly cheap and low loss. Yes, it is 75 ohm, not 52 ohm, but for receive only antenna like this, who cares?

Running a NEC simulation, the free space resonant frequency is 1.59 MHz, with an input impedance of 140 ohms, which seems reasonable for a loop antenna. Over an average ground, this shifts to 1.55 MHz and 49 ohms, and over a good ground, 1.55 MHz and 27 ohms. Using an average ground, and running NEC simulations for other frequencies gives the following results:

1	35	-2421	2421
2	245	1735	1752
3	83	-181	199
4	941	-3196	3331
5	398	1082	1152
6	203	-354	408
7	2233	-1832	2888
8	507	768	920
9	346	-519	623
10	2392	-489	2441
11	542	437	696
12	447	-609	755
13	2113	845	2275
14	487	250	547
15	771	-650	1008
16	1564	786	1750
17	344	157	378
18	1029	-877	1352
19	1132	797	1384
20	470	47	472
21	1338	-998	1669
22	886	708	1134
23	410	-76	416
24	1497	-509	1581
25	748	664	1000
26	480	-173	510
27	1619	-194	1630
28	675	516	849
29	485	-239	540
30	1815	341	1846

R is the real component of the impedance, X is the reactive, and Z is the overall impedance, all values in ohms. As you can see, the impedance values are all over the place. Looking at them in closer detail would show even finer scale variations, but I’m not sure it would be too useful, as this is a simulation, an estimate of the antenna performance, these are not necessarily the impedance values of the actual antenna. Lies, damned lines, and antenna models.

The large Z impedance values over the HF range are why I went with a 16:1 balun, to better match them to the 75 ohm coax. The downside is that the loop impedance over MW is much lower, and the 16:1 balun probably produces a poor match. A 1:1 balun might be best for MW use, but I’m not sure what would happen at HF, I assume a poorer match and weaker signals. I spend most of my time on HF, anyway.

Below is a plot showing the gain of the antenna at three different elevation angles, 30 degrees (low angle radiation, ideal for DX), 60 degrees, and 90 degrees (which would be straight up) for a frequency of 6.9 MHz.

The red circle is the gain for 90 degrees, straight up. This angle for NVIS, where the radio waves are going virtually straight up from the transmitter, and being reflected straight down back to the Earth. The gain is 7.2 dB over an isotropic antenna (an antenna with no gain in any direction). For this case, the antenna has no favored direction, it is equally sensitive in all directions around the compass. For the lower angles, the antenna does have more gain in certain directions, and of course less in others. I find that for NVIS reception of pirates this antenna is excellent, so here’s one case of an antenna model actually approaching reality. DX reception is not bad either, I regularly pick up Europirates, and of course SWBC stations from all over.

One thing I like about the antenna is that it works reasonable well over all of HF and much of MW. I used to have dedicated dipoles for the various HF bands, but it was always a pain to switch antennas when tuning to a different band. And being a loop antenna, the noise levels are much lower than dipoles. I do wish the performance on the lower part of MW was better. I will try enlarging the antenna and see if that improves MW reception.

Don’t let the large size of my build of this antenna discourage you from building your own, if you don’t have the room for one of this size. A full wave loop antenna for 6.9 MHz is 146 feet – that’s a square 36 1/2 feet on a side. Such an antenna should work well from 43 meters on up.

4 thoughts on “The Sky Loop Antenna

  1. Hy Chris, thank you for your blog and this article. I think that antenna should be in resonance every 1.55 (or 1.58) mHz and I prefer those loop antennas for ham radio (we call it lazy loop or lazy delta loop it it has only 3 legs) on all HF bands when I need a non directional pattern.

    Greetings from Hamburg/Germany,
    Dietmar, DL4HAO

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  4. I have property 340ft wide and 1/4 mile long. Im reading all sorts of books on antennas and find that a 40 meter signal on a 160 meter loop is better than the same signal on a loop 40. If this is true,,is it?? It might be better for me to put up a 320 meter loop or even a 640 meter loop and use it for many bands. Is this a good idea or not? Also, if im transmitting, my signal goes out in all directions equally weak, or more so than if i had a beam, so am i into a great receive idea, but a not-so-good transmit idea. Any help is appreciated W4CUM

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