Marconi transmitter c.1897

Guglielmo Marconi

Callsigns: MAA-MZZ

Experimental Radio Communications

From 1895-1937

Philip L

Callsign: G0ISW

(Ex G1MOG / BRS 85124)

Amateur Radio Communications

 Since 1985 (SWL 1983)




This website relates to the recreational pastime and hobby of Amateur Radio, promoting the science of experimental radio communications & related technology, founded by the famous Guglielmo Marconi, in 1895. Exciting new discoveries relating to VHF radio propagation or experimental new communication modes are still being made in the 21st Century.

G0ISW Station

This website was originally created on 1st September 2000, by Philip G0ISW to assist other Radio Amateurs to experiment, research and achieve Very High Frequency (VHF) DX (long distance) communications in the 50 MHz, 70 MHz and 144 MHz bands, as well as being a useful operating aid, having essential propagation information on one page. Additionally the site has been designed not only for licensed Radio Amateurs, but also for members of the public who are not licensed to transmit, but who may have an interest in some of the topics discussed or are aspiring to join the hobby.

If you cannot see the full index shown on the left edge of your screen, please go to my main page at


As a visitor to this website please, please Sign my Guest Book, as I spend a considerable amount of personal time maintaining this site. I really appreciate your positive comments, suggestions etc. Your Guest Book entries greatly help to maintain my enthusiasm for continuing this task after 24 years!

I've had to create a new Guest Book due to the old Lycos/Tripod service closing down on 01.04.2012.


If you really like my website and find it useful, please consider buying me a coffee using the link below, as my PC used for maintaining this website is over 12 years old now and needs replacing soon.

73 de Philip G0ISW



The 'magic' with VHF signals is that Amateur Radio signals in the frequency bands 50 MHz, 70 MHz and 144 MHz are predominantly 'line of sight', typically short range distances at ground level between 0-50 km and are blocked easily by obstacles such as hills or buildings. If these signals are not obstructed and are sent from ground transmitters into the air they will travel straight out into Space for significantly greater distances.

Using experimental techniques and via 'enhanced propagation' it is possible to regularly reflect these VHF signals back to Earth or to reflect and bounce them from Meteor trails, Auroras, Aircraft, Satellites, the Moon and the International Space Station (ISS) Sometimes, but rarely it is even possible to extend the range of VHF signals to several thousands of km and even reach all Continents, including Australia!



Right click on images below and select open link in new tab






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North Auroral Forecast Image





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VHF/UHF spots Real-time maps



Knowing when there is enhanced VHF/UHF propagation conditions is key to working long distance (DX), as well as for later detailed Propagation Studies of these events.
Randomly finding a VHF DX station on air by tuning or monitoring in your radio shack is fine, but live or forecasted Propagation indicators will help significantly more. All the main VHF Propagation mode indicators are shown further below on this page.
The other way of knowing is by viewing online DX clusters, which show by VHF band of interest what is being heard or worked by other Radio Amateurs close to you, which is very useful indeed. By far the most useful 'spots' to send to DX clusters are


Formatted spots differ from regular spots in that they also include the Propagation mode too. This helps everyone to know if the Propagation is by Sporadic-E, Tropospheric Ducting, Meteor Scatter etc. An example of a correctly formatted real DX cluster spot seen on 24th May 2023 is shown below

DX de OZ6QF 144174.0 SP3TLJ JO44UX<TR>JO82TM FT8 1035Z

In this example the mode of Propagation has been correctly identified as via Tropo, indicated by the abbreviation TR, between the two locator squares. The distance between the two stations was 589km and at this time the only band with Sporadic-E being worked was the 50 MHz band, with a MUF of around 60 MHz, so no Propagation alerts were being sent out for false ES openings on 144 MHz, good.

If however the wrong Propagation type had been entered by an operator, such as via Sporadic ES, then not only would the MUF have been incorrectly calculated in the above example as 290.3 MHz, but false alerts would have been sent out to those who subscribe to them.


With the very sporadic nature of Sporadic-E and significantly briefer openings on 144 MHz than 50 MHz (maybe as little as 10% as often), various online sites or software use the 'formatted spot' data to calculate the Maximum Useable Frequency (MUF) and this in turn is used to activate real-time live alerts, sent either by PC's via software, e-mails or via mobile phones.
However, every year some 'formatted spots' are entered incorrectly by Radio Amateurs as being for example, via Sporadic-E, when in fact that is either not the correct Propagation mechanism or it is an impossibly short or long distance for that Propagation mechanism, this leads to false very high MUF's being generated and displayed by VHF software such as LiveMUF, which in turn lead to annoying false alerts sent to everyone and it invalidates historical Propagation Studies, as well as Region 1 record distance records for each Propagation type by band.
With this in mind I have undertaken to analyse historical published VHF propagation data, to come up with an easy to understand guide table to correctly identify the VHF propagation mode, based upon minimum and maximum possible distances, see below. If followed, this should significantly reduce the number of incorrect 'formatted spots' entered on VHF, as well as being adopted by VHF software authors, DXcluster keepers and  Region 1 distance record administrators for them to validate their own data.



Send a Formatted VHF DX Cluster spot



Distance <50-100km 100-500km 500-800km 800-2400km 2400-4800km 4800-7200km Over 7200km
Propagation type Line of Sight (LOS)

Tropo Scatter (TRS)


Tropo Ducting (TRD)

TRD + Sporadic-Es
Aurora (AU)    

Sporadic-Es (ES) very rare at short 500-800km distance

 (50MHz only)

Sporadic-Es (ES)

x1 hop

Sporadic-Es (2xES)

 x2 hops

Sporadic-Es (3xES)

 x3 hops

(50/70MHz not 144MHz)

Sporadic-Es (4xES)

 x4 hops

(50 MHz not 70/144MHz)

Meteor Scatter (MS) Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) TEP + Sporadic-Es
Aircraft Scatter (AS)

<------VHF     UHF------>



F2 Layer reflection/refraction (F2)
Required conditions or assists with ID True Line of Sight is up to 50km, but can be extended by significant height ASL or by diffraction to maximum of 100km (LOS) Tropospheric Ducting requires stable High Air Pressure, as often seen associated with fog. Paths can be blocked by mountains. A Sea surface ducting path is required for the very longest rare distances (TRD) Distances of around 5000km on 144 MHz reported (TRD+ES) Often misidentified as ES alone on DX cluster. Main distance component is TEP and both stations need to be on opposite sides of the Magnetic Equator (TEP+ES)
  Sporadic-E for rare 500-800km distance requires very high MUF >110MHz (ES) Sporadic-E extensively occurs from May to August on 50 MHz, with a peak in June, with ES on 144MHz occurring less than 10% of that time. Shorter lived ES openings are sometimes possible at other times of year, especially during the major meteor showers(ES)
Mostly short duration bursts of seconds or less, but can be a couple of minutes, especially seen during known meteor showers (MS) Both stations need to be either side of the Magnetic Equator (TEP), but do not need to be equidistant. Most favourable time of year is near to Summer Equinox.
Tropo Scatter is very poor at 50 MHz, but good at 144 MHz, often associated with fading QSB (TRS)  
Look for a Planetary Kp index of 5+. Raspy distorted tone & audio distortion, signals bounce back from auroral curtain to other stations, some of which may be relatively local (AU)     x4 Sporadic-E hops very rare, needs mostly daylight path, Europe to Japan seen 50MHz (4xES)
Around 4 minutes total duration, VHF needs largest aircraft, UHF travels longest distances (AS)   F2 Favours Autumn to Spring months during the Solar Cycle Maximum, every 11 years (F2)


Major Meteor Showers



If you are old enough to remember the pre digital (before 2007-2012 switchover) 'analogue' TV signals here in the UK in the frequency range 470 MHz to 790 MHz, you might recall the BBC weather forecasters sometimes announcing during extended periods of high air pressure and fog that your TV reception was suffering from 'co-channel interference' from the Continent.

This was caused by unusual enhanced propagation, caused by the weather conditions allowing TV stations in France, Holland or Germany to be received here, but sharing the same frequencies as our own TV stations they created unintended difficulties for viewers such as receiving their pictures and/or sound. However this announcement by the BBC was always good news for VHF Radio Amateurs because we would know it was an opportunity to greatly extend our own radio transmission ranges to the Continent.

These pages will explain how VHF DX is possible and show experimentation continues to this day with new technologies and developments such as special 'Weak Signal' software allowing us to combine radio transceivers with computers to detect signals that otherwise would be missed.




The section below is designed to be a single page at-a-glance indicator of current VHF Propagation conditions, particularly useful if just home from work or to monitor whilst in your shack.


There is a new DXSummit cluster page and application, please click on image below to adjust viewing for your desired choice of bands



Status Status Status Status


VHF Tropospheric Ducting Index by William Hepburn

(Right click on image below and select open in new tab for full 6 day forecast)

Historical image shown courtesy of William Hepburn

   Click here for latest 6 day preview

Great example above of a Tropo Ducting path potentially open between Spain and South America on Tuesday 25th June 2013. That evening lots of 144 MHz DX being worked between mainland Spain and the Canary islands, mistakenly reported on the DXclusters as via Sporadic-E, as even on 50 MHz the Es had been extremely poor throughout Europe all day long.


50 MHz real-time Propagation Map by NG0E

(Right click on image below and select open in new tab for current map and select 50 MHz box only)



VHF 144 MHz Tropo propagation openings map

(Right click on image below and select open in new tab for current map)

Click here for last 1 hour Live Map

Above a VHF Tropo propagation map using 144 MHz APRS signals, by Jon Harder NG0E, shown on the morning of Wednesday 26th June 2013 indicating pathways. Interestingly the Tropo ducting paths are still open from Portugal and the Azores to the Canary Islands.

Historical image shown courtesy of John Harder NG0E



Sporadic-E propagation, also known as Es propagation, is a type of atmospheric phenomenon that occurs in the VHF (Very High Frequency) bands of the radio spectrum. It affects frequencies typically ranging from 28 MHz to 220 MHz, which include amateur radio bands, FM broadcast, and television bands.

Sporadic-E propagation is characterised by the reflection and limited refraction of radio waves in the E region of the ionosphere, hence its name. The E region is located at an altitude of approximately 90 to 130 kilometres (56 to 81 miles) above the Earth's surface. Normally, radio waves in this frequency range pass through the E region and continue into space or propagate through other means, such as ground-wave or Tropospheric ducting.

However, under certain atmospheric conditions, Sporadic-E clouds or patches form within the E region. These clouds/layers consist of ionized particles, which can reflect and refract radio waves. When this happens, radio signals can be reflected back to Earth over long distances, allowing for communication beyond the normal VHF line-of-sight range which is only around 50km.

The Sporadic-E clouds are not uniform in shape, size, surface texture or orientation and are constantly twisting and turning, so that radio signals being reflected or refracted from them may be of any polarisation or continuously changing polarisation.

VHF radio signals may be reflected from a steeper angle, where the Sporadic-E cloud MUF is high enough, or be reflected usually at a shallower angle. If the Maximum Useable Frequency (MUF) isn't high enough to support the transmitted VHF frequency in use, then the radio signal will pass straight through the Es cloud layer. 

These clouds are sometimes static in position or may move in a particular direction, they appear to often descend from their maximum peak altitude over time, particularly at sunset.

Signals can be bounced from one Sporadic-E cloud to another, with many recorded VHF signals at 50 MHz bouncing between two clouds. Due to the specific signal reflection angles, at the time, the ground areas able to receive them can be quite specific, so a Radio Amateur in one location may be working DX, but his neighbour a mere 10km away may hear nothing.

When viewed from above the area in which two-way communication should be possible via a Sporadic-E cloud can be described as looking like a 'doughnut'. The centre missing part of the doughnut is the Sporadic-E cloud location and the main part of the doughnut is the area in which stations either side of the centre may be able to reflect their VHF radio signals, if the MUF supports the frequency in use.

If a station is outside the doughnut, or directly beneath the Sporadic-E cloud in the centre, they will be unable to bounce their signals off it. An example is shown below, courtesy of FMlist, where we can see two Sporadic-E cloud areas observed on the morning of 17th June 2023 in the FM Band II 87-108 MHz frequency range.



Sporadic-E clouds support the reflection of VHF radio signals at fairly shallow angles, the higher the radio frequency the shallower the angle of incidence needed, too high an angle, for example typically over 45 degrees, or too high a radio frequency for the MUF, will result in no VHF signal reflection and the signal will travel straight through the Es cloud into space.

All angles of antenna elevation for Sporadic-E propagation should be less than <25 degrees above horizontal. For the very longest Sporadic-E distances, antenna elevation needs to be as close as possible to horizontal 0 degrees.





This means that the centre of the 'doughnut' referred to earlier is a distance around a transmitting station where Sporadic-E cannot be utilised. Let us look at the table below showing the minimum distances observed for Sporadic-E propagation, we can see that for 50 MHz normally the minimum distance is 800km, but with an exceptionally high MUF of 110 MHz or higher which support steeper angles of 50 MHz signal reflection, the minimum distance can be as little as 500km.

This is for VHF signals within the 50 MHz band and for higher frequencies, such as 144 MHz, the minimum distance is usually in the order of 1400km.



Distance <50-100km 100-500km 500-800km 800-2400km 2400-4800km 4800-7200km Over 7200km
Propagation type Line of Sight (LOS)

Tropo Scatter (TRS)


Tropo Ducting (TRD)

TRD + Sporadic-Es
Aurora (AU)    

Sporadic-Es (ES) very rare at short 500-800km distance

 (50MHz only)

Sporadic-Es (ES)

x1 hop

Sporadic-Es (2xES)

 x2 hops

Sporadic-Es (3xES)

 x3 hops

(50/70MHz not 144MHz)

Sporadic-Es (4xES)

 x4 hops

(50 MHz not 70/144MHz)

Meteor Scatter (MS) Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) TEP + Sporadic-Es
Aircraft Scatter (AS)

<------VHF     UHF------>



F2 Layer reflection/refraction (F2)



To put that minimum Sporadic-E skip distance for VHF signals into a visual context, let us superimpose the exceptional 110 Mhz+ MUF minimum distance of 500km radius for 50 MHz signals around my station located in Penrith, Cumbria, locator IO84 almost at the centre of the United Kingdom.


We can now see clearly that with the exception of Cornwall, Channel Islands and the Shetland Islands it should be impossible for me, even with an unusually high MUF of over 110 MHz, to send or receive any radio signals via Sporadic-E propagation with stations located elsewhere within the United Kingdom on 50 MHz or higher frequencies. This is the hole in the Sporadic-E doughnut.







Let us not forget that the higher the VHF frequency the larger the doughnut hole is, at 144 MHz the minimum Sporadic-E hop distance increases to around 1400km, the angle of incidence needs to be shallower. The map below shows this together with the maximum single hop (1xEs) distance of 2400km.


We can see that unlike on the previous 50 MHz map the size of the doughnut hole has significantly increased, so we can now no longer work on 144 MHz, via Sporadic-E, Countries such as Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark or Germany as they are too close.




For the 500km minimum Sporadic-E communication distance the following minimum MUF is required by band (calculations made with rauMUF software by G7RAU)


50 MHz requires a MUF exceeding 110 MHz

70 MHz requires a MUF exceeding 155 MHz

88 MHz requires a MUF exceeding 195 MHz

144 MHz requires a MUF exceeding 320 MHz!! i.e. impossible for this short a distance, which is why the minimum Sporadic-e skip distance for this frequency is 1400km.


Typical Sporadic-E propagation MUF observed by me online using the G7RAU Live MUF page, during the May to July 2023 season, has most often been in the range 50-60 MHz, sometimes on a very few days reaching 95 MHz.


The highest frequency I can find online records for, showing the propagation mechanism to be via Sporadic-E, is for the 220 MHz band in the USA back in 1987


Any shorter than 500km distances observed on 50 MHz, or higher frequencies, and considered at first to be possibly via Sporadic-E are most likely to be due to Aircraft Scatter (AS), where VHF signals can be reflected at much steeper angles and shorter distances, due to the large metallic bodies of the aircraft being significantly better VHF radio signal reflectors.





If we know the minimum single hop Sporadic-E skip distance is 500km at 50 MHz and the maximum single hop distance is 2400km, we can use mapping tools ( to create our own Sporadic-E visual doughnut, below is mine. The dark grey circle centred over the UK is the 500km minimum hop distance area within which no two stations can communicate with each other via Sporadic-E propagation, as they are too close together.

Due to the map using Mercator projection of the Earth, the doughnut shape is not perfectly circular at the outside edge. We can see that all of Continental Western Europe is within single hop (1xEs) range, as is a lot of Eastern Europe, Iceland, North Africa and Scandinavia.


Let us now look at the maximum double hop (2xEs) Sporadic-E distance of 4800km superimposed over the same map, shown below. This brings Newfoundland, Canada and some of the NE US States into range. It also brings into range all of the Mediterranean Countries such as Israel, Turkey, Lebanon and Cyprus. Double hop (2xEs) Sporadic-E is a quite common occurrence on 50 MHz.


Finally let us look at the maximum Triple hop (3xEs) Sporadic-E distance of 7200km again shown over the same map, see below. This brings into range much more of the USA, some of the Caribbean islands, such as Cuba and just touches a small part of South America. Triple hop (3xEs) is much rarer, but does seem to show up each year, particularly towards the USA.



The formation of sporadic-E clouds is influenced by a variety of factors, including solar activity, weather patterns, and the composition of the ionosphere. These clouds can appear and disappear relatively quickly, often within minutes or hours. They tend to be irregularly shaped and can cover a wide range of frequencies, leading to varying propagation conditions for different VHF bands.

Sporadic-E propagation is often associated with enhanced signal strength, long-distance communication, and the possibility of receiving distant television and radio stations. It can result in unexpected radio contacts, opening up opportunities for amateur radio operators to communicate with stations that are usually outside their normal range. During periods of intense sporadic-E activity, multiple signals can be heard simultaneously, leading to a crowded and dynamic radio environment.

It is worth noting that Sporadic-E propagation is sporadic by nature, meaning it is unpredictable and can occur at any time of the year. However, it is more commonly observed during the spring and summer months in the northern hemisphere. Monitoring the VHF bands and staying alert to signs of Sporadic-E activity, such as sudden signal strength increases or the reception of distant stations, can help radio enthusiasts take advantage of these unique propagation conditions.

The exact conditions necessary for the appearance of Sporadic-E layers have remained mostly a mystery until recent years where a gradual consensus is being formed, if likened to a recipe the key ingredient always required is the Sun strongly illuminating the ionosphere and causing significant and intense solar ionising radiation, with the peak ionisation being at local midday during the Summer months (May to August) in the Northern hemisphere.

Additional ingredients required for the formation of Sporadic-E may include some of the following: High Meteoric metal deposition rates, Ionospheric Wind shear, thunder storms, Atmospheric Gravity Waves (AGS), Noctilucent Clouds and Solar cycle activity.

Below is a table of theorised Sporadic-E required ingredients and observed strong data correlation in the Northern hemisphere.



50/70 MHz

144 MHz

Summer Es Main Season from May to August (Peak in June)

Usual season

Usual season

Intense Solar UV Radiation



High Meteoric metal deposition rate



Intense E-Layer ionisation



Major Meteor Shower



Atmospheric Gravity Waves (AGW)



Ionospheric Wind shear



Thunder storms/Lightning*

Potential enhancer

Potential enhancer

Nearby Mountains*

Potential enhancer

Potential enhancer

Solar K index needs to be <5

 <5 observed

<3 observed

Daylight hours only

Predominantly daylight hours, but can occur during darkness hours up to around local midnight


Capable of x2 hop <4800km

Yes, seen regularly

Yes <3200km

Capable of x3 hop <7200km

Yes, Europe to USA (seen up to 90.7 MHz)

Never observed

Capable of x4 hop <9600km

Yes, Europe to Japan in daylight path on 50 MHz

Never observed

Noctilucent Clouds (NLC) 75-85km height**

Not needed, extensive ES observed with no NLC sightings

Not needed, extensive ES observed with no NLC sightings

*Atmospheric Gravity Waves (AGW) can be produced by both Thunder Storms and rapid air flow over Mountains or Jet Stream instability

**Noctilucent clouds (NLC) are seasonal from May to August each year, exactly the same season as for Sporadic-E


Sporadic-E propagation is generated by a combination of atmospheric and ionospheric conditions. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, several factors contribute to the formation of sporadic-E clouds and the subsequent propagation of radio waves. Here are some of the key requirements for sporadic-E propagation to occur:

Ionisation: The E region of the ionosphere, located approximately 90 to 130 kilometres (56 to 81 miles) above the Earth's surface, must contain a sufficient number of ionized particles. These ions are typically produced by solar radiation, cosmic rays, and other sources. Higher ionization levels create more favourable conditions for sporadic-E propagation.

Irregularities: The E region must contain irregularities or enhancements in electron density. These irregularities can be caused by a variety of factors, including wind patterns, atmospheric turbulence, and gravity waves. The presence of these irregularities allows for the reflection and refraction of radio waves.

Electron Density Gradients: The formation of sharp gradients in electron density within the E region is crucial for sporadic-E propagation. These gradients act as boundaries that reflect and refract radio waves, redirecting them back toward Earth. The steepness and location of these gradients determine the direction and distance of the propagated signals.

Weather Conditions: Local weather patterns can influence the formation of sporadic-E clouds. Certain atmospheric conditions, such as temperature inversions and wind shear, can contribute to the development and stability of these clouds. High-pressure systems, thunderstorms, and temperature variations can also impact sporadic-E propagation.

Solar Activity: Solar radiation plays a significant role in ionospheric conditions. Sporadic-E propagation tends to be more prevalent during periods of increased solar activity, such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections. Solar events can enhance ionization and create favourable conditions for sporadic-E propagation.

It's important to note that
sporadic-E propagation is highly variable and sporadic in nature. It can occur unpredictably and is influenced by a combination of factors. Monitoring radio signals and staying aware of atmospheric conditions can help identify periods of
Sporadic-E activity and take advantage of enhanced propagation on VHF bands.




Sporadic-E (abbreviation Es) enhanced VHF radio propagation is just that, sporadic yet present most days for several hours at a time during daylight hours on 50 MHz usually most years between May to August in the Northern hemisphere, peaking in June sometimes with rare short duration openings supporting radio signal reflections on frequencies as high as 144 MHz, and with daily timings over several years showing the greatest chance of Es being present between 11:00-12:00 UTC and 16:00-18:00 UTC. Sporadic-E is observed on 144 MHz less than 10% as often as on 50 MHz.

For many years there have also recorded a much weaker and shorter Sporadic-E season around the Winter solstice (21st December) when the intensity of the sun's solar radiation is at its maximum over the winter months. I have only ever worked it a few times.

However in 2020/2021 things changed quite noticeably from previously recorded years, the usual Es season didn't end in August, but carried on throughout September, October, November, December and into January 2021 with at least 3 large European wide Sporadic-E openings each month on 50 MHz workable even from here in the far North of England. I don't know if this is because many more Radio Amateurs are using the weak signal data mode FT8 and are able now to detect and work Es openings in a way that wasn't previously possible with CW and SSB and/or is it because so many people are at home monitoring the VHF bands due to Covid-19 lockdowns. Or is some unexplained physical change in the atmosphere.

Excellent Sporadic-E 144 MHz events occurred in 1989, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2017, 2020, 2021 and 2022 which have been at both maximum and minimum points in the 11 year sun solar cycle, which demonstrates that is not a factor required for Sporadic-E to occur. For an excellent evaluation summary of 144 MHz Sporadic-E from 2001 to the present day I highly recommend viewing the MMMonVHF website which shows you all the data collated and broken down into time, day, month, year, quantity and Es cloud positions.


Another characteristic supported by my own live monitoring over nearly 40 years and extensive collected data from DXcluster spots since 2001, in the Northern hemisphere for European propagation, is that the vast majority of Sporadic-E reflection areas or clouds seem to occur mostly over the Bay of Biscay, Switzerland and the Balkans. Here in the UK it is probable on most days in Summer to work Italy and Spain easily on 50 MHz, it is much rarer perhaps 5-10% of Es days for the reflecting Es cloud to be situated over the North Sea allowing communication from the UK to Scandinavia, however when this does occur it is in this very marked direction. Even rarer openings occur in the direction of Iceland from the UK, but several triple hop Sporadic-Es clouds do reasonably often open paths from the UK to the USA on 50 MHz.

Sporadic-E (Es) occurs in the Ionosphere at heights of between 90-130 km (110 km average) altitude and appears to concern strong areas of non-uniform and patchy plasma metallic ion and electron density irregularities that cause VHF radio waves to be reflected back to Earth by forward scatter. The metallic ions necessary are deposited in the Ionosphere by daily meteor activity (heating and ablation) even in the absence of major shower or meteor storm activity, the primary metal types being iron (Fe) and Magnesium (Mg). The total metal ion density determining whether or not the Es layer can support VHF signal forward scatter or not. The winds and electric fields at these altitudes act to compress the ions into thin layers of around 4 km in depth.

There are minimum distances for each band for propagation via Sporadic-E, lesser distances seen would be impossible by this propagation mode as the required MUF would be simply too high and must therefore be by another mechanism such as Aircraft Scatter or Tropo scatter etc. The minimum distances by VHF band are shown below.

50 MHz minimum Es distance 800 km (exceptionally down to 500 km, but usually around 800 km)

70 MHz minimum Es distance 1000 km (exceptionally down to 700 km, but usually around 1000 km)

144 MHz minimum Es distance 1400 km

The minimum distances are important because if the angle of incidence is too high and acute the MUF will not support the reflection and the VHF radio waves will simply pass through the Sporadic-E cloud layer and not be reflected. The higher the frequency the shallower the angle of incidence needs to be.

The height of the Sporadic-E cloud relative to the Earth's curvature is also important. It has been established that Sporadic-E clouds gradually descend as time goes by during the day, before eventually disappearing some time after sunset, exceptionally lasting until midnight.

The generally accepted Sporadic-E heights are between 90-130 km (110km average)

On 9th July 2023 at around 1600 UTC the MUF rose to around an average of 122 MHz, some spots showing 167 MHz, the 144 MHz band was open in the direction of Italy from the UK.




Research and published papers indicate that it is the daily ablation of thousands of metallic meteors from all directions that are required, rather than just intense meteor showers from single radiants. During the Summer months there is approximately three times more metallic meteorite deposition than in the winter months.

There have been several theories proposed over the years for Sporadic-E formation, some are being substantiated and some have limited correlation to observed events, and the required ingredients required to produce Es layers, to support forward scatter at VHF frequencies, appear to differ between the 50 MHz and 144 MHz frequency bands.

Sporadic-E occurs most notably on the VHF 28 MHz, 50 MHz, 70 MHz and 144 MHz amateur radio bands where the ionized E layer of the atmosphere at around 110 km altitude reflects forward scatter VHF radio signals back to Earth, rather than them normally travelling straight through the atmosphere into space, with received radio signals being extremely strong.

Monitor the VHF amateur radio bands and beacons and if Es signals are exceptionally strong on a lower band such as 50 MHz and at the lower end of the single hop distance range (<500 km) this can be a good indicator that Es will be supporting even higher frequencies, so consider listening up on the 70 MHz or 144 MHz bands too. If travelling in your car away from your shack try monitoring 87.6 MHz FM on your analogue vehicle radio to see if you can hear Es broadcast station signals from outside the UK (Tip from Dave Edwards G7RAU, thanks!)

Image result for car radio 87.6

Long distances on 50 MHz can be worked via Sporadic-E clouds at altitudes between 90-130km above the Earth's surface. Most of the rarer multi hop Sporadic-E events appear to occur between a maximum of up to three separate clouds. 

Some extensive 144 MHz very long distance Propagation Studies in Germany by Dr. Volker Grassmann DF5AI and Udo Langenohl DK5YA include their theorised possibility of VHF signal reflections from one Sporadic-E cloud hitting the ground and being reflected back up to a second Sporadic-E cloud, where there are either large bodies of water, such as lakes or rivers and even the theorised possibility of ground reflections from railway track metal lines.

A separate paper discusses Thunderstorm effects on Sporadic-E propagation at 144 MHz. Click on images below and open in new tab to read their research papers.




Single hop Sporadic-E 800-2400 km where the path is Earth-Cloud-Earth (exceptionally down to 500 km when MUF is near maximum)

Double-hop Sporadic-E up to 4800 km where the path is Earth-Cloud-Cloud-Earth

Triple-hop Sporadic-E up to around 7200 km where the path is Earth-Cloud-Cloud-Cloud-Earth.

(N.B. Triple hop Sporadic-E has been observed on 50 MHz, 87 MHz (extremely rare from Europe to USA only recorded once), but never seen on 144 MHz

With the advent of special weak signal data modes many more observations of the triple hop Sporadic-E are being observed on 50 MHz, seemingly favours the path from Europe to North America.

Very rare quadruple hop Sporadic-E (4xEs) on 50 MHz has been observed on a daylight path from Japan to Europe in July 2023 after a 5.8 magnitude solar flare with SFI 214


Distances for VHF radio signals in excess of 7200 km are extremely unlikely to be via Sporadic-E alone, as the chances of more than three sporadic and random Es clouds all being in the perfect positions at the same time, in day and night areas is almost zero, instead look for Sporadic-E propagation joining up with another Propagation mechanism such as Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP), Meteor Scatter or via F2 propagation. F2 propagation supporting 50 MHz occurs only near or during, the 11 year average, Solar Cycle maximum when the F-layer supports refraction (bending) of signals at 50 MHz from that much higher altitude layer, ranging in height from 200-500km, back to Earth where they may bounce from the ground/sea back to the F-Layer again. This is how it is possible to work Australia from the UK on 50 MHz.

Ionosphere and magnetosphere | Atmospheric Science, Solar Wind, & Radio  Waves | Britannica



With any long distance 50 MHz propagation the polarisation of the transmitted VHF signal may be changed from horizontal to vertical, or vice versa, after it is reflected or refracted by a single or multiple Sporadic-E clouds, indeed the signal should not be thought of a like a narrow laser beam striking a mirror, but should be likened to a much wider car headlight striking a corrugated shiny tin roof, with the reflected light or radio signal scattered in multiple different forward directions. This can lead to the VHF radio signal having differently polarised mixed components, or the same polarisation, which can become out of phase and create an unusual twisted 'barbers pole' effect visible on the spectrum screen of SDR receivers.

Some really good image examples of this twisted 'barbers pole' out of phase signal effect, which is particularly, or only evident, on double hop Sporadic-E, have been kindly provided to me by Paul Logan from Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, who is a very active and well known Broadcast FM DXer on Twitter @FMDXIreland as observed by him in the frequency band of 87-108 MHz. The twisted 'barbers pole' out of phase signals at 2800-3000 km distances, shown in the images below, stand out as clearly different from the single hop Sporadic-E distance stations signals, that do not have the twisted barbers pole effect visible.

Image      Image






Whilst on the subject of FM DX in Band II between 87-108 MHz the fantastic website of FMList has a visual mapping system showing in real-time DX spot paths via Sporadic-E, which reveal readily Es skip 'doughnuts', with the missing centres being the approximate location of the Es clouds. As can be seen in the image below, dated 17th June 2023 at 1000 UTC, where two separate simultaneous Sporadic-E clouds can be visually observed.

Single hop Sporadic-E is routine, double hop considerably rarer and triple hop extremely rare, as all the clouds must perfectly align and be at the right heights and with sufficiently high MUF to support such high VHF frequencies.

Triple hop Sporadic-E signals in Band II VHF frequencies 87-108 MHz are extremely rare

On 26th June 2009 Paul Logan from Lisnaskea, Northern Ireland had triple hop Sporadic-E reception on the FM band from eight US States and one Canadian province. The most distant signal received was that of WVAS radio in Montgomery, Alabama, USA on 90.7 MHz at a distance of 6456 km (4012 miles). The reception was recorded and later confirmed by WVAS newsreader Marcus Hyles.

On 5th July 2022 Bryce Foster (K4NBF) Co-host of the VHF DX podcast received a triple hop Sporadic-E FM signal on 87.8 MHz from Portugal to Cape Cod, USA


The VHF DX Podcast

I have found strong Sporadic-E stations within 87-108 MHz can be heard and received here in the UK from Spain, often accompanied by openings on the Amateur Radio 70 MHz band, but sometimes without any 70 MHz Amateur Radio stations being heard. I can only put this down to the transmitter powers of the FM Broadcast stations being often measured in many kW and therefore with magnitudes higher ERP.

This also used to be the case when the old Band 1 TV transmitters 47-68 MHz were heard easily in the UK from Spain, before any openings were received on the Amateur Radio 50 MHz band due to the difference in ERP levels. This was via Meteor Scatter or Sporadic-E.


On 144 MHz the distances for single hop Es contacts appear to all be in the range of between 1400-2400 km with rarer double hop Es extending this to a recorded maximum of 3600 km. Longer distances can be found online, however they all appear to be via Tropospheric Ducting + Sporadic-E, analysis of the Callsigns/locators show them all to have an extensive over water path (Sea) and intense Tropospheric Ducting was reported at the time to be the main Propagation mechanism.

No triple hop Sporadic-Es has ever been recorded for frequencies as high as 144 MHz, the highest frequency this has been found has once been 87 MHz. The angle the radio signal hits the Sporadic-E cloud needs to be shallow enough to permit reflection, depending on the MUF value, otherwise if too steep or not supported by the MUF it will not be reflected and instead pass straight through the Es cloud and off into space.

The exact multi hop mechanism for each signal may not be readily identifiable and may be signals reflecting off a single Es cloud layer or multiple separate Sporadic-E clouds and/or various mixtures of Cloud and the Earth (TBC) with potential reflections from water offering significantly less attenuation than from land. It has also been suggested that metal train tracks might also permit ground reflections, as well as bodies of water such as lakes and rivers or the Sea.

It is also theorised and pretty much correlated that the Es cloud layers are not uniform and flat, but may have parts or all tilted at times at up to 45 degrees where they often have an irregular wavy surface, like corrugated metal sheeting (see image below).  This can slightly complicate understanding the precise Sporadic-E hop mechanism being observed on 50 MHz with the theory being of many instances where two cloud Es formations exist, the Es layers being tilted towards each other.

This two cloud Es formation appears to account for 50 MHz signals in the distance range of 2400-3200 km i.e. more than a single hop maximum (2400 km), but much less than for double-hop (4800 km). The signal path being Earth-Cloud-Cloud-Earth.

Noctilucent clouds at around 85km altitude - Photo by Jan Koeman, Kloetinge, the Netherlands, July 2009

In the two Es cloud formation path live example shown below, captured at 18:12 UTC on 17th July 2018, I was hearing the station of SV1NZX in KM17 square via Sporadic-E on 50 MHz at a very strong signal level, my station G0ISW in IO84 square being 2741 km in distance away and therefore well beyond the maximum single hop distance of 2400 km.

Looking at the live MUF mapping software display there were two significant Es cloud areas in place (circled in red) on the path, both at a similar distance from our stations, therefore it appears that the signal was being reflected from these separate Es clouds at the same time, with both Es clouds layers probably being slightly tilted towards each other with wavy irregular cloud surfaces, the path being Earth-Cloud-Cloud-Earth.

Be aware though that in multi hop Sporadic-E propagation of two (2xEs) or three (3xEs) clouds, they are unlikely to be evenly spread apart between the transmitting and receiving stations, one cloud may be very close, the other/s very far away or any combination, as well as differing altitudes.


Planetary Solar K-Index

For monitoring the Planetary Solar K index, observing the suggested level 3 or less to allow Sporadic-E, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Service is recommended,

Right click on the image below and select 'open link in new tab' to see current levels.



Total Electron Content (TEC) Maps

A TEC map, also known as a Total Electron Content map, can be useful for visualizing and studying Sporadic-E (Es) propagation in the ionosphere. Sporadic-E is a phenomenon in which irregular patches of ionisation occur in the E-region of the ionosphere, typically at mid-latitudes.

Here's how a TEC map can be helpful for
Sporadic-E visualisation:

1. TEC Measurement: TEC represents the total number of free electrons in a column of unit cross-sectional area from the Earth's surface to the top of the ionosphere. TEC maps provide a quantitative measurement of the electron density variations in the ionosphere. By analyzing TEC values over a geographical region, you can identify regions with enhanced electron density associated with
Sporadic-E events.

2. Ionospheric Irregularities:
Sporadic-E events are characterised by the presence of localised ionospheric irregularities. These irregularities can cause radio wave propagation anomalies, affecting communication and navigation systems. TEC maps allow you to identify regions where TEC gradients or fluctuations deviate from the average ionospheric conditions, indicating the presence of Sporadic-E.

3. Spatial Distribution: TEC maps provide a visual representation of TEC values over a specific geographic area. By examining the spatial distribution of TEC anomalies, you can identify regions that are more prone to
Sporadic-E occurrence. This information can be valuable for planning radio communication systems, particularly for high-frequency (HF) radio links.

4. Temporal Evolution: TEC maps can be generated and updated at regular intervals, allowing you to observe the temporal evolution of
sporadic-E events. By analysing successive TEC maps, you can track the movement, expansion, and dissipation of sporadic-E regions. This knowledge can be useful for understanding the dynamics of sporadic-E and predicting its behaviour.

Overall, TEC maps provide a comprehensive view of the ionospheric electron density distribution, enabling the identification, analysis, and visualisation of
sporadic-E events. They help researchers, radio operators, and scientists gain insights into the behaviour of sporadic-E, leading to improved understanding and utilisation of the ionosphere for various communication and navigation purposes.

Right click on the image below and select 'open link in new tab' to see current levels.



Sporadic Es and Ionospheric chart for Rome

Showing daily height of Sporadic-E clouds (h'Es) and HF MUF.


Shown, if present, is the height of the Sporadic-E reflecting cloud layer, usually between 90-131 km (h'Es), with the higher the height the better, as it may indicate stronger ionised metal bearing layers, which will support higher VHF frequencies and also last longer than Es layers at lower altitudes. The live data Ionogram shown below from Rome, Italy is a very good guide to whether or not Sporadic-E paths exist from central to Southern Europe on any given day, it is one of several Ionogram generating sites, the others can be found from the RSGB website here or the DK5YA VHF page.

It is interesting to observe that the height of the Sporadic-E layers is not uniform across all of the locations in Europe at the same time of measurement, for example at 08:00 UTC on 13th July 2018 the heights ranged from 108 km in Rome, 97 km in Athens, 108 km in Svalbard, 105 km in Dourbes, Belgium, 115 km in Juliusruh, Denmark, 103 km in Tromso, Norway, 113 km in Gibilmanna and 115 km in Pruhonice.

Also the Sporadic-E layer heights vary by time of day, with Rome descending from 108 km at 08:00 to 99 km by 11:00 UTC, it was thought all Sporadic-E clouds descend over time after reaching their peak altitude.

(Right click on image below and select 'open link in new tab' for current chart)

Image above courtesy of the Rome Observatory of the Instituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV)

Observing the Sporadic-E cloud heights over several days in June 2023 using the Rome site h'Es altitude data showed the following height patterns, from first detected Es presence onwards, typically early morning to late evening:

13th June 2023  104km->108km->122km->No Es->126km->117km

14th June 2023  108km->99km->104km->117km

15th June 2023  113km->104km->113km->131km->117km->108km->104km->99km

17th June 2023  117km->113km->108km->104km->113km->108km

18th June 2023  131km->122km->113km->108km->104km->108km->104km->108km->No Es->104km->108km->113km->108km->113km->117km->113km->104km->108km


From these observations we can say that after peak Sporadic-E cloud height is reached, the clouds do generally trend downwards over time as daylight closes, however in the mornings some clouds rise to a peak, others drop height before rising again to a peak later in the day and some clouds disappear altogether, only to reappear later.

On the Sunday 18th June 2023 the Sporadic-E heights shown above were all over the place like a yo-yo.


Sporadic-E cloud height and related signal distances

The height of the Sporadic-E cloud directly influences the distances over which reflected VHF signals can be received. If a single Es cloud is located at a lower altitude within the E Region, the radio signals will be reflected back at a lower angle, allowing them to reach receivers that are relatively closer to the transmitter. Conversely, if the Es cloud is situated at a higher altitude, the signals will be reflected at a steeper angle allowing them to reach receivers that are farther away.

However, for double hop (2xEs) or rarer triple hop (3xEs) Sporadic-E propagation, lower cloud heights increase the chance of the VHF signal being reflected off the first cloud, by the shallower angle of incidence supporting a higher MUF, onto the underside of subsequent Es clouds thereby increasing the workable distance beyond that of a single higher Es cloud. This often leads to double hop (2xEs) Sporadic-E propagation being observed to be more prevalent in the early morning or late evening, when the Sporadic-E clouds are at their lower altitudes, typically they are at their highest altitude at midday or in the afternoon.




Sporadic-E correlation with atmospheric effects

Sporadic-E on 144 MHz defies any specific direct correlation with AGW, wind shear and thunder storms. In the example below at 17:53 UTC on 23rd July 2018 there is a pronounced Es reflecting layer shown over the Balkans and their mountain ranges, but checks on live wind charts show no jet stream or other significant wind activity anywhere near and also no lightning whatsoever.

After sunset the ionised Es layer usually fades until it can no longer support VHF signals being reflected from it, probably due to no longer receiving solar radiation, however on rare occasions Sporadic-E VHF propagation has been known to occur even up to local midnight.


From observations in Europe, over the past 30 years, Sporadic-E clouds are randomly generated signal reflecting areas, which vary in size depending on the frequency band they can support  i.e. 50 MHz Sporadic-E clouds are usually significantly larger and can often be around 500 x 500 km (5 x 5 grid squares) in size, whereas on 144 MHz they may often only be 50-100 km in size i.e. a single grid square, unless a very significant and much rarer large opening event. The usual small reflecting area on 144 MHz means fewer stations will be ideally located to benefit from using it. Some stations will enjoy the enhanced long distances being worked and others will miss it entirely if not in the right place at the right time.

In the image below we can see that there was one locator square where the 50 MHz Sporadic-E signal paths were crossing in JO22, no mountains nearby.




In the images below white lines show the paths on 50 MHz, grey lines are 70 MHz and red lines are 144 MHz.

On 144 MHz the Sporadic-E layers in Summer have been observed to move slowly from East to West and sometimes correlate with intense thunder storms, but not always. Note the correlation between this very significant 144 MHz Sporadic-E opening reflection zone, shown below on 12th July 2018, and the live map of lightning strikes at the same time in the same area. The 144 MHz opening on the border of Poland with Ukraine shown below lasted just over 1 hour and despite much similar lightning visible in Norway no such Sporadic-E opening occurred there. However later in the week further extensive thunder storms were present and no Sporadic-E was observed anywhere in Europe, all the necessary combination of ingredients not being present.

In addition whilst 50 MHz Sporadic-E band openings can last most of the day, 144 MHz openings can be very short lived and occur much less frequently, only being available for a few days each year and for much less time, sometimes only as little as a few minutes or an hour and almost always in June.

From my own observations 144 MHz Sporadic-E reflecting areas do sometimes, but not always, coincide with intense thunder storms and due to the height of the Es reflecting layer being between 90-130 km I can only theorise a link with the little known electrical Sprite phenomenon perhaps, possibly generating Atmospheric Gravity Waves (AGW) and causing wind shear at 90 km altitude and higher. No such correlation with thunder storms and Sporadic-E is seen anywhere near as often on the other lower VHF bands.

Image credit

Abestrobi Own work CC BY-SA 3.0


The higher the frequency the more intense the Sporadic-E ionised layer has to be to support forward scatter propagation via it, at 144 MHz in particular it can be frustrating to see the small reflecting area favour radio amateurs in a particular geographic area reasonably close, but in your own location nothing is heard and vice versa. Sometimes the reflecting areas at the centre of the lines connecting the QSOs converge over a particular area each year, the Bay of Biscay near France is one such area. Often the reflecting layer/cloud moves over hours in a East to West direction. Using the Live-MUF mapping software it is very easy in real time to observe these events.

Sometimes on 144 MHz there may be correlation with Es reflecting areas and thunder storms generating extensive lightning activity (another theory), but by no means do they coincide every time. On the morning of 3rd May 2016 there was a clear 50 MHz Es reflecting layer centred over the Baltic states, but no wind shear or AGW from mountains, nor any thunder storm lightning activity found using live data, so the required ingredients were much simpler.

In June 1989, during a particularly intense radio Es event on 144 MHz, I observed the distant DX stations heard to slowly all shift SW over the course of two hours, in a direction not associated with the jet stream, but consistent with the Earth's rotation in relation to the Sun.


Image result for animated gif of earth rotation with sunlight


If we consider the 'wind shear' theory formulated in the 1960's by Whitehead (1961) and Axford (1963) in which vertical shears in the horizontal wind form thin layers (several kilometres) thick from metallic ionisation through ion-neutral collisional coupling and acting in the presence of the Earths magnetic field and through the Lorentz force. The original metallic ions thought to be present from meteoric origin.

With the wind shear effects being required at the Sporadic-E height of at least 80-90 km we should look first at evidence of observed wind effects or clouds near that altitude with the highest visible clouds in the Earth's atmosphere being the rarely seen Noctilucent clouds at 80-90 km in altitude, just below the Mesopause. These clouds are also seasonal May to August in the Northern hemisphere and are bluish-white in colour and are only visible just after sunset when still illuminated by the sun and have undulations, corrugations and rich veins.

These clouds do prove that there are wind effects present at these very high altitudes and surprisingly also water vapour too, their non uniform composition can be likened to the theorised irregularity of Sporadic-E clouds. Apparently research 25 years ago found that these Noctilucent clouds exhibit good radio reflection properties due to metallic meteor deposition being attracted to and coating the tiny water droplets which have turned to ice.

In 2020 I have theorised that there may be a link between some Sporadic-E propagation and Noctilucent clouds at around 80-90 km altitude. These clouds only form in exactly the same Summer months as the main Sporadic-E season and historic research has shown they exhibit good radio reflecting properties, they are thin and wispy, non regular and vary considerably, all factors which would support the variability of Sporadic-E reflecting areas. Also in the Summer months the predominant wind direction at these altitudes is from East to West just the same as some observed Sporadic-E reflection areas movement and the wind speeds can apparently reach up to 300 km/Hour.

The noctilucent clouds are formed from ice crystals being attracted to metallic meteorite particles and gathering around them acting as a reflector to VHF radio waves if sufficiently dense.

Wind shear from the Jet Stream at altitudes of between 9-16 km above ground level over mountains has been suggested at 144 MHz to have an association with Sporadic Es, part of the so called 'wind shear' theory. Using the live wind chart below and setting the wind height altitude to 500 hPA  (11 km) should allow observations and comparisons to be conducted in real-time with Sporadic Es cluster maps to support or discount any such correlation, with wind effects.

(Right click on image below and select o'pen link in new tab' for current live jet stream map)

For European Sporadic-E formed via AGW effects we need to look also at a map of European mountain ranges to see if there is any correlation with observed Es clouds, it does not however explain Es clouds on 50 MHz often seen formed over the Bay of Biscay, North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean. Sporadic-E has been observed to regularly form over the Balkans, Pyrenees and the Alps, does this coincide with Jet stream wind direction on the same days?


Noctilucent clouds do prove that there are wind effects present at these very high altitudes caused by Atmospheric Gravity Waves (AGW), their non uniform composition can be likened to the theorised irregularity of Sporadic-E clouds.

Noctilucent clouds at around 85km altitude - Photo by Jan Koeman, Kloetinge, the Netherlands, July 2009


How are there wind effects and potential 'wind shear' at 90 km altitude required for Sporadic-E? Well, Atmospheric Gravity Waves (AGW) required to form Noctilucent clouds and other wind effects at these high altitudes can be generated by either violent intense thunderstorms or wind flow over high mountain ranges, which cause vertical displacement of the air flow with the AGWs forming when buoyancy pushes air up and gravity later pulls it back down.

The AGW can be likened to a corrugated tin roof effect being placed on the original horizontal air flow and these uneven waves of air then travel to high altitudes and new waves form underneath so a sequence of waves will be formed. AGW are medium scale waves with the horizontal wavelength ranging from several tens to several thousands of kilometres and a vertical wavelength of several kilometres. Using radar measurement AGW have been observed to reach heights of around 85-88 km, the same height as Noctilucent clouds. The AGW can even penetrate up to the Ionosphere where they trigger ionospheric irregularities and add to the recipe for Sporadic-E likelihood.

The generally accepted height of the Sporadic Es reflecting layer is around 90-130 km, which is very significantly higher than the jet stream altitude of 11 km. Although annual the intensity of Es events varies by year and had been very poor compared with the 1980's and 1990's, despite peaks and troughs of the solar cycle. In 2017 and since it has been much better.

There is a definite connection with the radiation intensity of the Sun due to the seasonal Summer nature of the event in the Northern hemisphere. Also the Es events tend to mostly occur during daylight hours at VHF. A 3-6 day cycle pattern of building up to a Es peak also seems quite prevalent, possibly an electric ion charge/discharge cycle period perhaps, it does seem strange to see very active Sporadic-E one day and absolutely nothing the next day despite weather and Solar conditions appearing unchanged.

The Earth has a Global Electric Circuit (right click on image below for video explanation) with lots of variables daily impacting upon it at Ionospheric altitudes, many of these factors will contribute to whether or not VHF radio signals can be propagated over vastly longer distances than normal on any given day.

Image result for global electric circuit

A nice 144 MHz Sporadic-ES early afternoon opening took place on Wednesday 24th May 2003 with the ES cloud situated near the Romania/Moldova border in KN47 square, this seemed to coincide with significant lightning strikes in the same area, lightning strikes map image below.

A very lively start to the day at 0845 UTC on Sunday 28th May 2023 with a significant Sporadic-E opening on 144 MHz, MUF is already shortly afterwards 150 MHz. Looking at live Lightning strike map of Europe, there is no correlation observed this time however. However there is very intense Meteor activity today believed originating from Comet 209P, which occurs every year between 24-31st May, see images below.




This Sporadic-E opening is staying frustratingly over central Poland at 1124 UTC and is now only up to 70 MHz, it has moved a little further West than earlier this morning. At 1305 UTC it still hasn't moved away from Poland and is getting weaker with just a few 50 MHz spots being shown. By 1650 UTC the Sporadic-E opening on 50 MHz largely gone and very little heard today here for the UK, surprising the Es didn't move or appear further West at all. Brief weak 50 MHz opening from UK to Scandinavia this evening


Sporadic-E + Tropospheric Ducting (TRD)

Also in June 2019 Sporadic-E + marine Tropo Ducting allowed signals on the 144 MHz band to be received from D41CV in the Cape Verde Islands off the West Coast of Africa to be received by OE3NFC in Austria at a distance of 5107 km, the marine Tropo ducting path being from Cape Verde to Southern Spain where it joined the Sporadic-E path between Southern Spain and Austria.

The Sporadic-E cloud height is between 90-130km above the Earth, so this combined Propagation mechanism favours a shallow angle of reflection from the cloud down to the Sea surface, where it is then reflected from the water into the very much lower Tropo Ducting 'pipe' and then can travel considerably further. The height of the Tropo Ducting layer can vary from just above the Earth's surface to several km high. Surface based ducting typically forms over bodies of water and can be very close to that surface.




Sporadic-E + Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP)

An absolutely exceptional partial Sporadic-E contact occurred on the morning of 24th July 2018 between 0700-0800 UTC when the station of VK8AW (PH57) Darwin, Australia worked and was heard by stations in Europe on 50 MHz with the furthest station being G3TXF (IO71) in England at a distance of 14,118 km!

Previous theory and long established observations prior to 2018 stated there should be no F2 or Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) propagation except at solar maximum, but having communicated via e-mail with Gary Ashdown VK8AW it appears that his signals were reaching Southern Europe and the Middle East via Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) and were being further extended by widespread European Sporadic-E linking to it. Apparently 48-50 MHz signals are observed by VK8AW regularly from the Middle East and China and the new weak signal data mode FT8 is allowing two way radio communications, where they were previously almost unworkable or undetectable except at solar maximum in other modes such as SSB.

This mechanism of TEP + Sporadic-E propagation has been seen again on 50 MHz in Summer 2019 with many Japanese stations working Southern Europe and even UK stations on the South coast of England.

On 7th May 2023 there was another good example of Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) joining up with Sporadic-E on the 50 MHz band in the evening, allowing stations in Southern Europe and North America to work stations in South America, which would have been too far for Es alone.


Another good example of Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) joining up with Sporadic-E on the 50 MHz band on Saturday 13th May 2023, stations in Brazil workable here in Cumbria at around 1600 UTC


Highest recorded Sporadic-E MUF

The highest recorded Sporadic-E MUF that I can find so far online is 220MHz, where Bill Duval K5UGM and John Moore W5HUQ/4 broke through a 1500km path from Texas to Florida on 14th June 1987



Intense Meteor Storm Sporadic-E propagation

When I participated in the fantastic Leonids November 2002 meteor storm event, with over 700+ meteors per minute, the intensity was such that the whole 144 MHz band was wide open for many hours in the morning with the high signal strengths associated with Sporadic-E signals. The extreme rarity of this type of event makes it very special to witness, for me only once in my 40 years of being a Radio Amateur.

I have also observed other meteor showers coinciding with a Sporadic-E like openings, as happened in April 2017 and April 2021 during the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower, no other mention of Sporadic-E by stations until May, but the signal strengths I observed were very high and prolonged again, for an hour or more.


The long standing mystery of what exactly causes Sporadic Es propagation continues, since it was first observed in the 1930's.



Anomalies investigated using multiple data sources for later analysis

On Sunday 2nd July 2023 at 1637 UTC I heard SV5DKL on 50.313 MHz FT8 via Sporadic-E at a distance of 3113km, so at double hop Es distance, but look at the map below where the Es clouds (centre of doughnuts) do not appear to line up for this and are showing the MUF ES for frequencies in the FM Broadcast band of at least 87.5 MHz. That must mean then that the MUF Es clouds supporting my 50 MHz reception must be in a different position or significantly larger in size i.e. more to the North of the doughnut holes Es reflecting areas seen below. We know that the higher the MUF frequency supported by any ES cloud, the smaller that cloud (doughnut hole) reflecting area will be and conversely the lower the frequency supported the larger the Es cloud area will be.

If we look instead at the map below from showing 50 MHz spots seen in the DX Cluster, for the same time period, we can potentially see two locations for the required double hop 50 MHz Es clouds, the first is possibly over Austria at the intersection of a few spot lines, the second over Bosnia & Herzegovina. That would make more sense, but is this correct? We need to see more data to confirm or not.

If we now look at the data image below, from, showing stations worked/heard by me G0ISW for the same time period, we can definitely see the  Sporadic-E path between me and SV5DKL, plus the similar double hop 2xEs path for me hearing another station shown in Israel. Interesting to see at least 3 stations I heard in Austria JN77/JN76, who all appear to be directly beneath where I had initially suspected the first Es cloud to be.

Therefore the first Es cloud cannot be directly over these stations in Austria, but must be earlier in the path, over Germany instead about locator squares JO30/JO40, at the midpoint between G0ISW and the three stations in Austria for what is clearly an Es single hop distance. The second ES cloud initial speculation location remains the same, somewhere over Bosnia, or further to the South East.


Unidentified Propagation analysis (UK to Japan 50 MHz)

Here we see below on the morning of Wednesday 12th July 2023 an opening on 50 MHz between the UK/Europe and Japan at distances of over 8600km. All areas are within daylight. The maximum triple hop Sporadic-E distance is 7200km, so could this be Quadruple hop Es (4xES)?

We can discount TEP involvement as all stations are well above the magnetic Equator. The only other option for VHF at these distances would be F2 layer propagation.

Looking at the DX Cluster spots for 50 MHz there are very few single hop Sporadic-E spots showing within Europe so far. The SFI is at 214, unusually high indicating recent solar activity above the normal yesterday, it was an M-Class 5.8 solar flare. We are two years away from the next expected 11 year peak of the solar cycle, in July 2025. F2 propagation for 50 MHz would then be expected, as previously seen, only over the Winter months, not Summer now.

Conclusion is that this can only therefore be Quadruple hop Sporadic-E (4xES)




Interestingly a short time later by 0900 UTC a significant Sporadic-E opening on 144 MHz had developed, centred over Ukraine, this supports Es clouds with clearly high enough MUF for 50 MHz being present earlier over the Europe to Japan path. Quadruple hop Sporadic-E (4xES) now looking more and more certain.


We can see from the MUF map below for Sporadic-E that there are Es clouds that would support 50 MHz signals over Europe, Ukraine, Russia, China and Japan. The lack of further reported MUF ES clouds in between may be accounted for by the scarcity of amateur radio stations within Siberia and Mongolia.


Quadruple hop 50 MHz Sporadic-E (x4 ES) UK to Japan path

We have seen this very rare event recently, after solar flares, on entirely daylight paths between Europe and Japan on 50 MHz, however this morning Saturday 22nd July 2023 at 11.41 UTC we can see it is still possible after the sun has completely set in Japan. The solar flares with their extensive ionising radiation appear to be generating broad areas of Sporadic-E enhancement over huge distances, the latest flare was M 3.81 class on 19th July 2023.



Auroral Oval


North Auroral Forecast Image

(Images provided by NOAA)


VHF/UHF QSOs real time maps

(Right click on image below and select 'open link in new tab')

Live International Space Station (ISS) position below

 Images provided by Heavens-Above

VHF/UHF spots Real-time maps

ISS position

Radio Meteor Observatories Online (

Scatter daily activity analysis  

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Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory Meteor Radar

(Right click on image below and select 'open link in new tab' for live current data)

NLO Meteor Detection Live 3D Spectrogram

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Virgo Meteor Sky view applet

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Old Region 1 Band plan had 50.200-50.300 MHz for Meteor Scatter (still largely in use as of 2017)




50.230 MHz* JT6M (30s periods)


Most European MS activity was seen here in 2016, but in 2017 has declined dramatically in favour of MSK144 mode on 50.280 MHz.
50.280 MHz* (+/- 15 kHz) MSK144 (15s periods) 99% European activity this mode and frequency, seen here since 2018, with 15s periods and extremely popular. Software in use is either WSJT-X by K1JT or MSHV by LZ2HV

New Region 1 Band plan since 2012 suggests 50.320-50.380 MHz for Meteor Scatter





50.360 MHz


Designated frequency as of 2018 for this newer mode, but 99% of activity remains on 50.280 MHz
70.174 MHz MSK144 99% European activity this mode seen here since 2018


144.360 MHz MSK144 Designated frequency as of 2018 for this newer mode




It is also best practice when calling CQ to indicate another frequency you are listening on, for example CQ 270 when calling on 50.280 MHz, meaning you are listening for replies on 50.270 MHz and as soon as you hear one you QSY your transmissions there also.











50.230 MHz* JT6M Combination Meteor Scatter or Aircraft Scatter (ACS)or Sporadic-E, very active in 2016, much less so in 2021
50.250 MHz* PSK31  SPORADIC-E / F2 Transatlantic / Tropo was active 2017
50.276 MHz* JT65A  SPORADIC-E / F2 Transatlantic was active 2017
50.278 MHz* JT9-1***  SPORADIC-E / F2 Transatlantic (was 50.293 until 19th July 2013) (Poor mode at 50 MHz due to Doppler shift making signal decoding difficult)
50.293 MHz* (+ >1500Hz) WSPR  US / EUROPE*
50.305 MHz Q65 30S Mode A  New 2021 WSJT-X 2.4.0 Q65 European frequency for Scatter, note USA frequency is 50.275 MHz
50.313 MHz FT8 99% European activity with this new fast mode seen since 2017, seems very well suited to Sporadic Es propagation
50.323 MHz FT8 Intercontinental calling, Europe transmits 1st and USA 2nd period
50.330 MHz JT6M 5% European activity this mode seen here 2013
50.401 MHz (+/- 500Hz) WSPR New Region 1 Band plan
70.154 MHz FT8 Used extensively in Europe since 2018 during Sporadic-E summer season


*The new Region 1 (European) band plan, that came into effect on 1st January 2012, was largely being ignored by the VHF community, as all data modes in Europe were recommended to move above 50.300 MHz to free up space for more SSB voice, however 50 MHz is very often capable of Intercontinental communications and there remained much US data activity below 50.300 MHz so that is possibly why stations had remained on the old frequencies to work each other.

Since around 2020 and with FT8 data mode a specific frequency for Intercontinental working Europe to USA has been established on 50.323 MHz

*** From my own observations JT9 mode does not work at all well on 50 MHz, compared with JT65A which does work well, this appears to be due to JT9 signal drift/Doppler and leads to signals not being easily decoded, if at all, despite being strong on your display.





VHF Propagation mode distances

 Minimum & Maximum distances


Propagation type



 0-50 km

 50-100 km

 Line of Sight (LOS)

 LOS plus diffraction

Mountain top stations maximum Line of Sight (LOS) distance is around 110 km
 100-800 km  Tropo Scatter (TRS) The most common VHF propagation medium. Typical signals will exhibit fading QSB every few minutes. Poor signals on 50 MHz, favours 144 MHz
 100-500 km (VHF)

 100-800 km (UHF)

 Aircraft Scatter (AS) Signal duration of up to around 4 minutes.
 250-1100 km  Aurora (AU) Very distinctive with severe audio distortion
 400-2350 km  Meteor Scatter (MS)

Most prevalent in the mornings with signal durations from fractions of a second up to a minute. Exceptionally long 1 hour+ duration very rare and needs extremely intense meteor storms.

 200-4700 km  Tropo Ducting (TRD) Requires high air pressure and often associated with widespread fog. Paths blocked by mountains. Sea paths can greatly extend distances.

 500-2400km (50 MHz single hop)

2350-4800km (50 MHz x2Es hop)

4800-7200km (50 MHz x3Es hop)

7200-9600km (50 MHz x4Es hop)

 700-2400km (70 MHz single hop)

2400-4800km (70 MHz double hop)


 Sporadic-E (Es) Seasonal usually May to August in Northern Hemisphere, peak in June. Signal durations are often many minutes or hours. Can also occur during any larger Meteor Shower.

It is exceptional for Sporadic-E skip distances on 50/70 MHz to be as short as 500km, this only happens when the MUF is exceptionally high. Usually the minimum distance for skip is around 800km upwards.

x4 hop on 50 MHz is very rare, but has been observed on mostly daylight paths between Europe and Japan in July



1400-2400km (144 MHz single hop)

2400-3600km (144 MHz double hop)

 Note minimum distance

 Sporadic-E (Es) Seasonal May to August in Northern Hemisphere, peak in June, sometimes confused with rare extremely intense Meteor storms  leading to widespread enhancement up to hours long duration. Must be preceded by widespread Es on lower VHF bands first. Double hop required for maximum distance on 144 MHz.
The table above has been created from a combination of theoretical physical calculations for exact limits, internet research of published results and my own practical Amateur Radio observations for over 35 years.

Note it is also possible to extend some of the above ranges by combining two different propagation mechanisms together, for example Sporadic-E with either TEP or Tropo Ducting as has been seen in 2019 with 50 MHz signals between Europe and Japan and 144 MHz signals between the Cape Verde Islands and Italy/Austria.

Further significant Sporadic-E with TEP on 50 MHz has taken place in 2023, between Europe to South Africa and Europe to Brazil




Distance <50-100km 100-500km 500-800km 800-2400km 2400-4800km 4800-7200km Over 7200km
Propagation type Line of Sight (LOS)

Tropo Scatter (TRS)


Tropo Ducting (TRD)

TRD + Sporadic-Es
Aurora (AU)    

Sporadic-Es (ES) very rare at short 500-800km distance

 (50MHz only)

Sporadic-Es (ES)

x1 hop

Sporadic-Es (2xES)

 x2 hops

Sporadic-Es (3xES)

 x3 hops

(50/70MHz not 144MHz)

Sporadic-Es (4xES)

 x4 hops

(50 MHz not 70/144MHz)

Meteor Scatter (MS) Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP) TEP + Sporadic-Es
Aircraft Scatter (AS)

<------VHF     UHF------>



F2 Layer reflection/refraction (F2)
Required conditions or assists with ID True Line of Sight is up to 50km, but can be extended by significant height ASL or by diffraction to maximum of 100km (LOS) Tropospheric Ducting requires stable High Air Pressure, as often seen associated with fog. Paths can be blocked by mountains. A Sea surface ducting path is required for the very longest rare distances (TRD) Distances of around 5000km on 144 MHz reported (TRD+ES) Often misidentified as ES alone on DX cluster. Main distance component is TEP and both stations need to be on opposite sides of the Magnetic Equator (TEP+ES)
  Sporadic-E for 500-800km distance requires very high MUF >110MHz (ES) Sporadic-E extensively occurs from May to August on 50 MHz, with a peak in June, with ES on 144MHz occurring less than 10% of that time. Shorter lived ES openings are sometimes possible at other times of year, especially during the major meteor showers(ES)
Mostly short duration bursts of seconds or less, but can be a couple of minutes, especially seen during known meteor showers (MS) Both stations need to be either side of the Magnetic Equator (TEP), but do not need to be equidistant. Most favourable time of year is near to Summer Equinox.
Tropo Scatter is very poor at 50 MHz, but good at 144 MHz, often associated with fading QSB (TRS)  
Look for a Planetary Kp index of 5+. Raspy distorted tone & audio distortion, signals bounce back from auroral curtain to other stations, some of which may be relatively local (AU)     x4 Sporadic-E hops very rare, needs mostly daylight path, Europe to Japan seen 50MHz (4xES)
Around 4 minutes total duration, VHF needs largest aircraft, UHF travels longest distances (AS)   F2 Favours Autumn to Spring months during the Solar Cycle Maximum, every 11 years (F2)



Height km

VHF Propagation modes

Different propagation modes enable VHF/UHF signals to travel further than normal 'line of sight' because they are reflecting your signals from different heights, above sea level, in the Earth's atmosphere.

Tropo Scatter takes place below 10,000m (10km) height (Mt. Everest is by comparison 8,850m high), whereas the majority of Meteor Scatter takes place at 90 km altitude and Sporadic Es can be up to 130 km height, allowing much greater distances to be achieved.

The exception is Tropo Ducting, between 450-3000m height asl, where the signals are trapped between layers of hot and cold air (temperature inversion) and if over a good calm sea path may extend for huge distances. Contacts between Scotland and the Canary Islands on 144MHz have been achieved this way.

Why are Auroral signals shown to typically achieve a lesser distance than Meteor Scatter even though the reflection takes place at a greater height in the Atmosphere? They do actually travel further reflected off the Auroral curtain near the Arctic back again, but the receiving station may be a lot closer to you in Europe.

The International space Station and the Space Shuttle are both over 200 km in height.

VHF/UHF Propagation modes explained

Propagation type


Comments for European stations

Line of sight

0-50 Km



0-110 km



0-390 Km



0-618 Km

(HA Balloon)

This is the mode by which most of your local 144/432 MHz FM simplex conversations will be made, either direct to stations or via repeaters.

Dependant upon antenna height above sea/ground level and visible radio horizon distance. Line of sight (LOS) distance can be increased with height or decreased by obstructions such as mountains, buildings etc.

Due to the curvature of the Earth there is a limit to how far VHF/UHF signals can travel before disappearing into space.

The formula for calculating your 'radio horizon' for an 'unobstructed path' or maximum line of sight distance is

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ height in metres

Example 1: Person standing at ground level (sea level) holding a handheld radio

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 1.80 metres  = 4.78 Km

Example 2: My home amateur radio station, located 154m ASL and antenna a further 5m AGL

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 159 metres  = 45 Km

Example 3: Person standing on summit of Helvelyn mountain, holding a handheld radio

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 950 metres + 1.80 metres  = 110 Km



Click on this link for VHF/UHF Line of Sight range calculator.


Line of sight is the direct free-space path that exists between two points. Using binoculars on a clear day, it is easy to determine if visual line of sight exists between two points that are miles apart. To have a clear line of sight there must be no obstructions between the two locations. Often this means that the observation points must be high enough to allow the viewer to see over any ground-based obstructions.

The following obstructions might obscure a visual link:

  • Topographic features, such as mountains

  • The curvature of the Earth

  • Buildings and other man-made objects

  • Trees

If any of these obstructions rise high enough to block the view from end to end, there is no visual line of sight.

Obstructions that can interfere with visual line of sight can also interfere with radio line of sight. But one must also consider the Fresnel effect. If a hard object, such as a mountain ridge or building, is too close to the signal path, it can damage the radio signal or reduce its strength. This happens even though the obstacle does not obscure the direct, visual line of sight. The Fresnel zone for a radio beam is an elliptical area immediately surrounding the visual path. It varies in thickness depending on the length of the signal path and the frequency of the signal. 

As shown in the picture above, when a hard object protrudes into the signal path within the Fresnel zone, knife-edge diffraction can deflect part of the signal and cause it to reach the receiving antenna slightly later than the direct signal. Since these deflected signals are out of phase with the direct signal, they can reduce its power or cancel it out altogether. If trees or other 'soft' objects protrude into the Fresnel zone, they can attenuate (reduced the strength of) a passing signal. In short, the fact that you can see a location does not mean that you can establish a quality radio link to that location.


There are several options to establish or improve the line of sight:

·        Raise the antenna mounting point on the existing structure

·        Build a new structure, i.e. radio tower.

·        Increase the height of an existing tower

·        Locate a different mounting point, i.e. building or tower, for the antenna

·        Cut down problem trees

My own radio horizon is obstructed by nearby hills and mountains as you can see in the charts below, with the blue line being the profile of the mountains as viewed and the red line being horizon distances. Near 120 degrees I have an almost totally unobstructed path in the region of a maximum 45 Km, whereas immediately behind my house to the North I have a hill  that blocks my signals in that direction.


Click on this link for VHF/UHF Line of Sight range calculator.

Obviously if the transmitter is not located on the ground, but instead is in an aircraft or balloon the line of sight distances can be vastly increased.

Example 4: Light aircraft at 3,000 m altitude, carrying Amateur radio transmitter

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 3,000 metres  = 195 Km

Example 5: Commercial aircraft at 12,192 m altitude, carrying Amateur radio transmitter

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 12,192 metres  = 394 Km

Example 5: Helium filled Amateur Radio High Altitude Balloon (ARHAB) transmitter at altitude of 30,000 m

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 30,000 metres  = 618 Km



Knife edge diffraction

50-100 km

Your LOS signal, which can be blocked by high terrain can sometimes be diffracted or bent over the top of the obstruction, particularly in mountainous areas if the top of the obstruction is 'sharp', hence the term 'Knife-edge diffraction'.

More information and software calculator here

I live in a mountainous area and have experienced a few instances where contacts have been made with stations that should have been totally obstructed by high mountains in between. Single knife edge or rarer double knife edge diffraction observations have been made by me over the Pennine Mountains between Penrith and Hexham. The image below shows the cross section and the distinct knife edges.


Tropo Scatter

100-800 km

This propagation mode is available all the time and is the main one for longer contacts, particularly at 144 MHz on SSB within the UK or to mainland Europe. Slow fading of signals often apparent and reasonable signal strengths.

Where your 'line of sight' distance has been exceeded due to the curvature of the Earth or obstructions, this mode is the one most likely to be found by radio amateurs, but does require typically horizontal steerable antennas and SSB, rather than FM.

Particularly useful on the 144 MHz band where from the UK it is possible to work nearby stations in France and Belgium all the time. With high gain antennas and sensitive receivers Germany and Denmark also become within range.

However this propagation type doesn't favour 50 MHz so well and can be disappointing.

This propagation mode was used by NATO, from around 1956 to the late 1980's, as part of the ACE HIGH Troposcatter system on frequencies between 832 MHz and 959 MHz, in a chain of 49 stations running from Norway to Turkey. Transmitting power was around 10 KW and huge dish antennas were used!

I remember seeing the huge dishes at Cape Greco (JCGZ) in SE Cyprus in the late 1980's, but am struggling to find any photos of them apart from this one.

Looking at Google Earth imagery below, from 2003, it appears the dishes have now been removed.


Aircraft Scatter

100-500 km

(50/144 MHz)

Up to 800 km

(10 GHz)

Aircraft scatter propagation (ACS) has been regularly used successfully on frequencies of 50 MHz and above. It can be subject to rapid fading of signals at 144 MHz and higher frequencies and may not be particularly easy to catch or use. The higher the frequency used the better the results are likely to be.

Imagine bouncing your radio signals off the metal aircraft body, which will be travelling at between 500-600 mph, in the same way you would bounce light off a mirror. Due to the speed of aircraft transit, maximum 30 second transmit periods are recommended and data modes such as JT6M (30s periods) or ISCAT-B (30 or 15 second periods) will probably yield the best results.

I have often found using 50 MHz and JT6M data mode that identified Boeing 747 airliners are sufficiently large, with their 64m wingspan, to produce good aircraft scatter. The scatter period on 50 MHz can last up to around 1 minute if crossing the direct path between stations and significantly longer if flying along the direct path.

Due to the curvature of the Earth and VHF signals being line of sight there is a maximum distance limit as to how far Aircraft Scatter (ACS) propagation can be used. This maximum distance is approximately 758 km for Civilian commercial aircraft reflections.

Also this maximum theoretical distance using commercial airliners does not take into account any path attenuation.

Using the calculations seen before for VHF line of sight signals we find that for a signal from a commercial aircraft altitude to sea level, the theoretical maximum radio horizon is 379 km as shown in the calculation below.

Example: Commercial aircraft at normal maximum 11,276 m (37,000 feet) altitude, carrying Amateur radio transmitter

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 11,276 metres  = 379 km (235 miles)

However, from my own recorded results the very best distance line of sight to a Civilian commercial aircraft I have obtained has been 338 km (210 miles) due to nearby ground obstructions i.e. mountains.

This zone of no line of sight could be referred to as a Radar Shadow Area (RSA), see image below for a better understanding how closer aircraft can be hidden yet further away higher aircraft ADSB transmissions can be observed.


Some modest increase in theoretical distance will be exhibited by amateur radio stations being at an elevation above sea level. However even the top of mountains will only add about 110 km more so the distance could be extended to nearly 500 km

So for the two legs from ground stations at mountain tops to aircraft and scattered back to ground the maximum distance is 2 x(379+110) km = 978 km.


Do any aircraft ever fly higher than 11,276 m (37,000 feet)

Yes, historically the supersonic Concorde used to fly at a cruise altitude of 18,900 m (62,000 feet) and the US Air Force SR71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft set an altitude record in 1976 of 25,950m (85,135 feet) although it is likely it could fly higher, but that maximum remains classified.


Some smaller modern military jet fighters apparently have a service ceiling of 65,000 feet, but stealth radar absorbing materials used to avoid enemy detection by radar will also prevent amateur radio aircraft scatter.

The only aircraft I have observed at significantly higher altitudes have been rare U2 flights passing over the United Kingdom with a transmitted height of 60,000 feet, although they could have been at a different higher altitude apparently as anything over 60,000 feet is deliberately not shown.


There may be other classified experimental military aircraft operational today, but due to the limitations of having air-breathing engines they too are limited in maximum altitude.

If we use 25,950m (85,135 feet) as the maximum possible, but most unlikely, theoretical and practical altitude then the radio horizon would be:

Horizon Km = 3.569 x √ 25,950 metres  = 575 km and for ground to aircraft scatter and back to ground that distance would be doubled to 1150 km in theory!

Also the aircraft size is key to whether or not is offers enough surface area for the transmit frequency in use, at 50 MHz (6m) it appears an aircraft the size of a Boeing 747 with a 64m wingspan is required for good results.

Smaller identified aircraft such as Boeing 737, with 34m wingspan, have not been observed by me to have as much success on 50 MHz, surprisingly.



Realistically for all amateur radio purposes a theoretical maximum for aircraft scatter (ACS) propagation remains around 700-1000 km for frequencies in the GHz microwave bands

Any DX spots showing aircraft scatter (ACS) over this 1000 km distance can only be operator error and should be discounted, with another propagation mechanism such as MS or Es being the actual medium used.

RADAR (Radio Detection And Ranging) has used radio signals since before WW2 to determine the flight path of aircraft. Early German WW2 radar used frequencies near to the amateur 144 MHz band. Modern stealth aircraft such as the US Air Force F-117 were designed so that their shape would not easily reflect Radar signals back to the receiving station, by avoiding having any vertical angles.


Some early experimentation has been done by SM6FHZ and his website detailing how to work regularly via this mode, using flight timetables is here. Frequencies of 144 MHz, 432 MHz and 1296 MHz have all been used successfully by him. Some imagery and an explanation of how you can experiment to listen yourself can be found on the website of G3CWI here.

Also the website of PA0EHG provides a fascinating account of his experimentation at 1296 MHz a frequency particularly well suited to ACS propagation, as well as his use of SM7LCB online Path and Scatter maps.

Since 2013 a fabulous new piece of software called AirScout has been written by Frank DL2ALF especially for Aircraft Scatter propagation. You get moving aircraft over a map in real-time as well as a plot showing where your signal and the station you are trying to work have a mutual reflective scatter zone into which the aircraft can fly and their times predicted.

Additionally a path profile is generated which shows obstructions such as mountains. This software is a superb tool to assist others for ACS research and real-time working and of course fun!

In the Summer of 2013 I first experimented with this software and using WSJT JT6M data mode on 50 MHz SSB was able to take advantage of regular aircraft scatter (ACS) between the UK and Ireland at a distance of 350 Km. The 30 second transmission periods for JT6M fitted perfectly the 1 minute long observed reflections, with fairly stable strong signal strengths seen. Happy days!

Since then I have had many successful contacts on 50 MHz using aircraft scatter and have even been able to predict the reflections timed to the minute using AirScout software by DL2ALF.

Signal strengths have been often observed at 6-12 dB.





Aurora favours Northern Europe. March is often a good month. You need to point your antenna between North and East and reflect your signal off the moving Auroral curtain.

Speak much slower than normal and compensate for the Doppler shift, which makes everyone sound like Daleks!


50 MHz is particularly good for this mode, 144 MHz is useable and 432 MHz is extremely difficult due to the high Doppler shift.

More information can be found here.
















Field Alignment Irregularities (FAI), can occur in the late afternoon from May to August, and favour Southern Europe. The signal is usually very weak and the scatter area is located at a height of approximately 110km.





Trans-Equatorial Propagation (TEP)

This Propagation mode seems to occur when both stations are located at equal distances North and South of the Magnetic Equator and experiencing a high level of electron density in Autumn and Spring, usually during periods of solar cycle maximum activity and the equinoxes.

The stations located over 45° of latitude north (or south) are usually too far off the geomagnetic equator to make use of F-layer FAI. Sometimes however, these latitudes could be worked via an additional sporadic-E hop/s, even if signals are usually weak and typically exhibit the fluttery and hollow like sound of pure FAI.

It was observed prior to 2018 that there were two distinctly different types of TEP that could occur:

The first type occurred during the late afternoon and early evening hours and was generally limited to distances under 6000 km. Signals propagated by this mode were limited to the low VHF band (<60 MHz), were of high signal strength and suffered moderate distortion (due to multipath). Single sideband voice communications were possible with this mode.

The second type of TEP occurred from around 1900 to 2300 hours local time. Contacts were made at 144 MHz, and even very rarely on 432 MHz.

The signal strength was moderately high, but subject to intense rapid fading, making morse code (narrow band CW) the only possible communication mode. One amateur described the signal quality in the following words: "we tried SSB but there was so much distortion that not a single word could be identified. [this mode] has a lot of flutter and fading and ... even the morse comes through like a breathing noise, not a clear tone" (from the Dawn of Amateur Radio in the UK and Greece by Norman F Joly).

Events in 2018 for the Australian station of VK8AW working stations in Europe on 50 MHz at solar cycle minimum via TEP combined with Sporadic-E have now thrown previously accepted observations and theory out of the  window. This appears due to the new weak signal data mode FT8 which is allowing two way communications via TEP to be successful even at solar cycle minimum, with the Middle East and China both being heard most days at his station near Darwin in Northern Australia.

It also appears that VK8AW being ideally situated just within the TEP zone at -40 degrees latitude and having a very high gain 50 MHz station, using weak signal data modes, has been able to regularly observe four (4) separate TEP waves each day and not just two as previously thought.

This has been observed again in June 2019 with EA8 stations working Japan on 50 MHz apparently using a combination of TEP + ES

Image result for geomagnetic equator

The following vertical total electron content map from NASA may help to indicate whether or not propagation via TEP is more or less likely.

Right Click on image below and select 'open link in new tab' for live data.

Here below is an old image from 2012 clearly showing the very high Total Electron Content shown in red colour as two distinct areas equidistant North and South of the Magnetic Equator, which in all probability was very likely to have been a TEP path for VHF radio signals at that time.


Here is a further example from the European Space Agency



Tropo Ducting



Exceptionally up to 4700km over long Sea paths

Signals can be quite strong. Look for periods of high air pressure over the UK and Europe. Often extensive fog can indicate the right conditions for this propagation mode. Once established paths can be open for many hours or days. Often you may hear far away 144 MHz/432 MHz repeaters that normally cannot be heard.

Sea paths possible exceptionally up to 4700 km on 144MHz SSB, paths between Scotland and the Canary Islands have been worked several times. The IARU Region 1 record for two-way communication on 144 MHz was set at 4163 km in 2018 between EI3KD and D4Z using CW on the Cape Verde islands, the maximum distance heard earlier in the day was as far North as GM around 4700 km which is astounding.

October often the best month. These Ducts form at heights between 450m to 3000m, but are blocked by higher mountains along the path. They require stable High pressure areas, fog can be a good indicator.

Click here for atmospheric temperature soundings.

Select Europe map and then click on site to view readings. Gif image to 700mB best. Look for temperature inversions, where the inversion thickness layer is wide enough to support ducting at 144 & 432MHz, using the table below.

Inversion thickness required
432 MHz
144 MHz




Not commonly useable by radio amateurs. Ionoscatter is the scattering of radio waves in the ionosphere due to irregularities in the electron distribution, which causes changes in the refractive index. Scattering is most pronounced in the D-region between 70 and 90 km and is best from 30-60 MHz.

Ionoscatter is a propagation mechanism available 24H a day like meteor scatter, but it is different from meteor scatter. Ionoscatter deliverer's a continuous weak signal and does not have the characteristic bursts in signal strength of meteor scatter.

Ionoscatter starts about 900 km and extends to almost 2,000 km. Troposcatter works on all frequencies 50 MHz to 10 GHz, whereas Ionoscatter is only useable on 30-60 MHz.

NATO Military radio systems from around the years 1950-1960 used huge aerials and around 40kW of power to maintain reliable signals via this mode! The Distant Early Warning Line DEWLine being a good example. Therefore it is rare for Amateur Radio transmissions to be powerful enough to utilise this mode. The Military Ionoscatter system was replaced by Troposcatter systems in the 1960's.

DEWLine station in Alaska


Meteor Scatter





Most meteorites have a significant iron metal content and when they burn up in the atmosphere at heights between 85-90 km they leave behind metallic ionised trails which reflect VHF signals back to Earth, that would otherwise be lost in space. Signals are typically of very short duration, but can be strong typically from -2 to +13db. During the rarest and most intense meteor showers the duration of signal reflections can be several minutes.

Extremely rare, once or twice in a lifetime, events can have so many meteors hours burning up that the E layer permits reflections lasting for several hours, just like Sporadic-E propagation. I have only ever witnessed this once with the Leonids shower in November 2002, with 700+ meteors per hour being recorded.

Summer months are best for the major showers, but winter months are active too. Random meteors occur all the time, day or night, and there are far more meteors than can be seen visually. Can be a mode that can revolutionise 50/70/144 MHz SSB contacts using software such as WSJT or MSHV by LZ2HV (latest MSK144 mode with 15 second intervals, is very popular in 2017) for long distance contacts. My favourite propagation type!

The lowest distance 500 km MS contacts can be very difficult to complete due to the high angles required, fewer meteors trails being in just the right place and nearby radio signal obstructions such as mountains, mid distance MS contacts around 700-1200 km being far easier.

Whilst most stations use directional horizontal beams and 100W or more, success can be achieved with omni-directional antennas such as horizontal loops and surprisingly even with vertical colinears.

The DX record for MS is somewhat over 2350 km, however this may be by the use of at least two different propagation mechanisms, for example MS + Sporadic-E or Tropo Ducting, as the curvature of the Earth and meteor heights set physical limits for pure MS QSOs.

Meteor Showers

Meteor Showers

Active Period

Approximate activity maximum

Peak recorded Radio reflection hourly rate


Jan 01-Jan 05

Jan 04

522 (2009)

Delta Leonids

Feb 15-Mar 19

Feb 25

353 (2010)


Jan 25-Apr 15

Mar 24

299 (2009)


Apr 16-Apr 25

Apr 22

403 (2010)


Apr 19-May 28

May 05

488 (2005)

Comet 209P TBC

May 24-May 31 May 24/31 540 (2007)
Pegasids Jul 07-Jul 13 Jul 10 495 (2007)

Southern delta-Aquarids

Jul 12-Aug 19

Jul 28

500 (2007)


Jul 17-Aug 24

Aug 12

527 (2009)


Aug 25-Sep 08

Aug 26

492 (2007)


Sep 05-Oct 10

Sep 9

298 (2007)


Sep 01-Sep 30

Sep 20

396 (2009)


Oct 02-Nov 07

Oct 14

471 (2009)


Nov 14-Nov 21

Nov 19

700+ (2002)


Dec 01-Dec 15

Dec 07

306 (2005)


Dec 07-Dec 17

Dec 14

521 (2005)


Dec 17-Dec 26

Dec 22

243 (2007)


Reflections of radio signals can last from around 250 milliseconds (1/4 of a second) to 30 seconds plus, but the vast majority are extremely brief. It can take a long time to complete a QSO in the region of 30 minutes or an hour, unless there is a major Meteor shower. In November 2002 the Leonids storm was the best ever with over 700+ meteors each hour. So many meteors were striking the atmosphere that an almost continuous reflective layer was formed with amazing easily completed verbal QSO's, almost like Sporadic-E signals that lasted for many hours continuously.

For Meteor Scatter the 50 MHz band is by far the best, 144 MHz is usable too, but more difficult and 432 MHz and higher almost unheard of.

To easily hear Meteor pings tune your transceiver to a distant strong VHF Band 1 TV station video carrier or VHF FM Radio station and you will hear nothing until the signal is reflected briefly by a passing meteor! Please note that during the Summer months Sporadic E (Es) may allow you to hear the TV or radio carrier continuously.

The Spanish TV Transmitter shown above, closed down in 2010, but in 2011 the TV Transmitter in Prague shown below was active. Sadly almost all Band 1 TV stations are closing down, replaced by UHF digital instead.

Unfortunately Band 1 analogue TV is being phased out in Europe and so the availability of these TV carriers is being much reduced for monitoring Meteor Scatter. There are some alternatives, such as the French GRAVES space surveillance radar system on 143.050 MHz CW.



Sporadic E (Es)

50MHz / 70MHz 


(Single hop)




(x2 ES)







(x3 ES)




(x4 ES)








Sporadic E (Es) is an abnormal propagation mode at mid-latitudes which occurs mainly during the Summer season, from May to August in the Northern hemisphere and from November to February in the Southern hemisphere. Very strong signal strengths are common, particularly in the peak month of June in Europe.

There may be a few further Sporadic-E events at other times of year, especially during larger Meteor Showers


Intense solar radiation and high metallic meteor deposition rates are required. The reflection takes place in a thin layer up to a maximum thickness of 4 km varying in altitude between 90 - 130 km above Earth, (often around 110 km) the higher the height of the Es cloud the greater the distances that can be worked as the angles of reflection are shallower for those stations furthest apart.

The Es Maximum Useable Frequency (MUF) varies from 20 MHz to at least 220 MHz with the primary limits for minimum and maximum distances for Es signals being the geometry of the Earth, electron density of Es clouds and their height. Maximum path distance will occur just below the MUF cutoff.

The ionisation clouds can sometimes be observed to drift westwards at speeds of few hundred km per hour. There is a weak periodicity noted during the season and typically Es is observed on 1 to 3 successive days and remains absent for a few days to reoccur again, a bit like charging up a battery and then depleting it.

The Sporadic-E cloud sizes vary those capable of reflecting radio signals at 50 MHz tend to be in the region of around 500 km x 500 km, whereas for 144 MHz they are often only 50-100 km in size. It is often found that nearby amateur radio stations, some recorded as only 5km away from you, can work stations you cannot hear and vice versa, it all depends on where that Es cloud is.

Es do not typically occur during the darkness hours, the events usually begin at dawn, there is a peak around 12:00 UTC and a second peak in the evening around 16:00 UTC. Es propagation is usually gone by local midnight.




For the UK 50 MHz Es propagation favours stations located furthest South, however openings for Northern based stations do occur, but interestingly often an hour or more later than for stations in the London area. This can result in big pileups with stations around London being worked by the DX station, only for an hour later stations in the North getting a look in! This can be most frustrating as the DX station may well go QRT by then or the pileup is so huge that the more Southerly stations with stronger signal strengths are the only ones heard.

Sporadic E (Es) clouds on 144 MHz have been observed to initially occur 'sometimes' within approximately 150 km (90 mi) to the East of a severe thunderstorm cell complex in the Northern hemisphere, with the opposite being observed in the Southern hemisphere. To complicate matters is the fact that Sporadic E (Es) clouds that initially form to the East of a severe thunderstorm complex in the Northern hemisphere, then move West of the severe thunderstorm complex in the Northern hemisphere.

So one may look for Sporadic E (Es) clouds on either side of a severe thunderstorm cell complex. Things get even more complicated when two severe thunderstorm cell complexes exist approximately 1000–2000 km apart.

Not all thunderstorm cell complexes reach severe levels and not all severe thunderstorm cell complexes produce Sporadic E (Es). This is where knowledge in Tropospheric physics and weather analyses/forecasting is necessary.



50MHz 2,400km is max 'single' hop distance. 50MHz Sporadic E (Es) season is usually from May to August in the Northern Hemisphere, peaking in June. 'Double' or 'triple' hop often seen vastly increasing the distances worked.

Some distances worked when at solar minimum in 2007 or solar maximum in 2013 have been in the order of 6000km, via triple hop Sporadic-E. On 20th June 2013 there was a 50 MHz Es opening from Europe to the Caribbean that vastly exceeds double hop distances. On 12/13th June 2018 triple hop Es to Brazil in South America was observed by me on 50 MHz here in IO84 square.

Some theories suggest these double hop Es occur from the Es layer clouds not being flat, but having an irregular or bumpy surface which can reflect the radio signals to other clouds before returning to Earth. Or some theories favour reflections from bodies of water on the ground back to the Es cloud layer.

On 50 MHz rare x4 Es hops have been observed between Europe and Japan, these have been seen in July 2023 over an entirely daylight path in the early morning UK time, before sunset in Japan.

Sporadic E remains a mystery, since first observed in the 1930's.




(Single hop)



Around 3600km

(Double hop)

144MHz 2,350km is max single hop distance. 144MHz Sporadic E (Es) season is from June to July in the Northern Hemisphere, with the peak in June. Signals often very strong but areas within the reflection zone are very pronounced, often spots are seen in one part of the UK with other parts not having the same luck.


Rare double hop Sporadic-E up to around 3600km perhaps with ground reflections from large inland waterways such as lakes and rivers as one theory suggests.    Click on link for more information.

F2 layer



Only open on 50MHz at the peaks of the 11 year solar cycle. For the Northern hemisphere in the Winter months open from October to January and possible from Europe to work all Continents, including Australia. Last peak I observed F2 propagation at 50 MHz was in 2013/2014.




For the best and most comprehensive guide to VHF/UHF propagation studies, I cannot recommend highly enough the website of Dr. Volker Grassmann DF5AI ; for practical operating Udo Langenohl DK5YA and for DX'ers to meet and chat online in real time the ON4KST chat pages.




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