681. How does radar absorbent materials work. How effective is stealth technology? — DP, Scottsbluff, NE
I believe that most radar absorbing materials are partially conducting plastic composites. As a microwave from the radar transmitter penetrates these composites, the electric field in that wave drives charges back and forth through the composites. Since the composites don't conductor electricity well, they turn the wave's energy into thermal energy and thereby absorb it. A similar effect occurs for light waves when you shine them on a pile of powdered charcoal. (According to David Ingham, some radar absorbing materials include lossy magnetic materials—materials such as ferrite and carbonyl iron that respond to the magnetic field in a microwave.) Because there is always some reflection whenever an electromagnetic wave enters a material that slows the wave down, stealth aircraft are also careful to deflect the reflected wave away from the radar transmitter so that its receiver won't detect the return wave. In fact, these materials can be corrugated so that any microwaves hitting them reflect into the corrugations and have many opportunities to be absorbed. As I understand it, the microwaves that return to the radar receiver from a stealth plane are remarkably weak. I wouldn't be surprised if a whole stealth plane reflected less microwaves back at the radar unit than would reflect from a foil chewing gum wrapper.