Another kind of special transformer, seen often in radio-frequency circuits, is the air core transformer.True to its name, an air core transformer has its windings wrapped around a nonmagnetic form, usually a hollow tube of some material. The degree of coupling (mutual inductance) between windings in such a transformer is many times less than that of an equivalent iron-core transformer, but the undesirable characteristics of a ferromagnetic core (eddy current losses, hysteresis, saturation, etc.) are completely eliminated. It is in high frequency applications that these effects of iron cores are most problematic.
The inside tapped solenoid winding, without the over winding, could match unequal impedances when DC isolation is not required. When isolation is required the over winding is added over one end of the main winding. Air core transformers are used at radio frequencies when iron core losses are too high. Frequently air core transformers are paralleled with a capacitor to tune it to resonance. The over winding is connected between a radio antenna and ground for one such application. The secondary is tuned to resonance with a variable capacitor. The output may be taken from the tap point for amplification or detection. Small millimeter size air core transformers are used in radio receivers. The largest radio transmitters may use meter sized coils. Unshielded air core solenoid transformers are mounted at right angles to each other to prevent stray coupling. Stray coupling is minimized when the transformer is wound on a toroid form. Toroidal air core transformers also show a higher degree of coupling, particularly for bifilar windings. Bifilar windings are wound from a slightly twisted pair of wires. This implies a 1:1 turns ratio. Three or four wires may be grouped for 1:2 and other integral ratios. Windings do not have to be bifilar. This allows arbitrary turns ratios. However, the degree of coupling suffers. Toroidal air core transformers are rare except for VHF (Very High Frequency) work. Core materials other than air such as powdered iron or ferrite are preferred for lower radio frequencies.
Advantages of Air Core Transformers
The key advantage to using an air core transformer is that the signal is neither distorted nor dissipated and does not generate noise. Other advantages are the lack of losses in hysteresis and eddy currents. Without a core, air core transformer has a lighter weight, making it useful for pocket devices and portable camping equipment.