Navy

Advanced radome design with tailorable reinforcement

Increased durability, decreased interference

Materials Other

Airmen open the nose radome of a C-17 Globemaster III. (Kevin Tosh/Air Force)

Radomes are enclosures that protect sensitive antenna equipment and are seen as the nose cone on many airplanes, domed structures atop ship masts, and in round or geometrically patterned ground units.

When designing a radome, engineers must balance the need for the structure to be transparent to RF electromagnetic (EM) radiation, while at the same time, having the durability to withstand its environment and protect precision radar components.

Sandwich-structure, composite radome designs have remained essentially unchanged for decades but are progressively underperforming due to the greater sensitivity of RF systems and increasing environmental stressors such as higher airspeeds and placement of devices in more extreme environments.

Navy researchers have developed a new structure for radomes that takes advantage of through-thickness reinforcement (TTR), which increases the durability of the radome against wind and other forces. The TTR technique includes pins comprising quartz, alumina, or another elements or compounds with similar characteristics and properties, such as similar dielectric constants. These pins connect the outer skin of the radome to the inner skin and may be arranged in any number of patterns. Ideal orientation of the pins is towards the expected prevailing force on the radome but likewise, they may be arranged in a cross-hatched or another overlapping pattern. Foam can fill the void between the pins or air may occupy that space. Reinforced radomes within the purview of this patent may be manufactured with mechanical performance and RF sensitivity optimized to a specific application.

To further decrease RF interference, threads may replace pins as the reinforcing material. Threads with a smaller diameter than the pins would create less RF interference, thus increasing the transparency to RF radiation. Additional advantages may be gained with thread due to greater volume per square inch of material and stronger interlocking (stitching) between the outer skin and the inner skin. This further secures the TTR within the core to decrease the likelihood of failure.

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