Microwave Tubes

Let's work together to expand Microwaves101 content on tubes in 2016...

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Who says tube guys have no sense of humor?

Click here to go to our page on magnetrons

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Microwave tubes may seem "old school" for college kids, but one tube can do the work of many, many solid state power amps. The tube industry is alive and well, but there is not a great number of engineers in this field. If you are thinking about making a career out of tubes, this could work out, because the average age of a real tube engineer is somewhere around 90!

For a great book on microwave tubes, get a copy of Electronic Tubes by A. S. Gilmour (Artech Press). Check it out on our book page! Much of the material on this page uses this outstanding book as a reference.

Tubes differ from solid state devices in that they operate using thermionic emission, not weird semiconductor physics. They are called vacuum tubes for a reason, thermionic emission only works in the absence of air.

If you are imagining that microwave tubes look similar to the amplifier tubes in your grandfather's radio, you are wrong. Microwave tubes have special features such as resonant cavities that usually can't be built from glass because complex-shaped objects would not stand up to the pressure of holding a vacuum.

Gridded tubes

The classic gridded amplifier tubes are the triode and tetrode. Gridded tubes typically crap out before microwave frequencies, because the dimension from cathode to grid starts to really matter, with respect to the small wavelength at microwave frequencies. Grid to cathode spacings of just thousands of an inch are required, which makes a nightmare to manufacture, let alone presenting a big heat problem.

Crossed field tubes

M-type tubes (this term originated in France)


Developed as a microwave source for radar during WWII. Cheaply produced magnetrons like the one below are used in your microwave oven! On this new page, the Unknown Editor attempts to explain how a magnetron works, to a fifth grade class!

"Magnetron" is the combination of the words "magnetic" and "electron" and is an example of portmanteau.

Microwave Tubes

Here's a photo of an old tube that someone named Dick sent us to identify, it's dated 1943. It's a 906FY magnetron tube. We had some help in identifying it from this German web site:


You can find a link to 706FY on the page, here it is:


Microwave Tubes

Linear beam tubes

In a linear beam tube, the electron beam travels in the same direction as the magnetic field. Linear beam tubes are often called O-type (the designation originated in France).

Traveling wave tubes

Content on TWTs has been moved to a new page.



The klystron was invented by the Varian brothers in 1939, they are in our Microwave Hall of Fame. The word "klystron" is derived from the Greek word "klyzo", which refers to waves breaking on a beach. We learned this from Gilmour's book! This is an an example of portmanteau.

Microwave Tubes

Microwave Tubes