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What kind of tasks and projects are given to RF Engineers?


Shou Oikawa Bronx, NY

I am a Computer Engineering Major and have taken interests to RF Engineering after taking Applied Electromagnetics and Signals and Systems. Although I understood most of contents of the classes, it was still a little abstract on how all of these engineering concepts comes together. I would like to have more insight on in this field and what it takes to become an RF Engineer.

20 May 2020 1 reply Career Exploration



Jason Aepli Springfield, VA

Hi Shou,

As you can probably imagine an RF engineer could be involved in a wide variety of tasks. Just to clarify that the RF engineer typically deals exclusively with electromagnetics related problems. You mentioned enjoying signals and systems and generally that's associated with things other than RF engineering such as control systems and signal processing/communications. About 2 years ago I worked for a short time on an RF Engineering team at Booz Allen Hamilton (defense consulting firm) where we mostly designed or analyzed antenna performance using Computation Electromagnetics Modeling software (we used Altair FEKO). We also had a lab where we both built out own antennas and tested their performance such as big High Frequency antennas. That would typically look like this:
- Design the antenna using an antenna modeling software package
- Order the parts needed to build the antenna
- Build the antenna in the lab and erect the antenna on the lab roof
- Connect the feed lines (coax for HF)
- Use network analyzers to measure the VSWR (Voltage Standing Wave Ratio - a measure of RF losses)
- Transmit predefined waveforms via the new antenna
- Take a spectrum analyzer to some prescribed distance away and take RF spectrum measurements to assess the antenna's performance (bigger firms will have their own anechoic chamber where you mount the antenna inside a big chamber (I work at Northrop Grumman Space Systems now and we have a couple of anechoic chambers in the area we can use) to take your measurements).

Some of the engineers on our team were helping the US Army characterize the performance of some communication and EW systems on their armored vehicles while others were spending their time helping the US Navy design and test a new microwave weapon system to shoot down drones. Still others were helping the Dept of Homeland Security understand the critical vulnerabilities of the 5G waveform. I helped out a little on some of those other projects, but my focus was on helping the US Air Force modernize it's HF communications infrastructure.

Everything I just discussed is just what RF engineers do in the communications field. There are RF engineers working in other fields such as medical devices for things such as MRI system design. There are other engineers using their electromagnetics knowledge in other ways I can't even think of right now too.

Hope that helps and feel free to send me a private message if you want to talk more.

Jason Aepli

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