Another type of transponder occurs in identification friend or foe systems in military aviation and in air traffic control secondary surveillance radar (beacon radar) systems for general aviation and commercial aviation. Primary radar works best with large all-metal aircraft, but not so well on small, composite aircraft. Its range is also limited by terrain and rain or snow and also detects unwanted objects such as automobiles, hills and trees. Furthermore it cannot estimate the altitude of an aircraft. Secondary radar overcomes these limitations but it depends on a transponder in the aircraft to respond to interrogations from the ground station to make the plane more visible.
Depending on the type of interrogation, the transponder sends back a transponder code (or "squawk code") (Mode A) or altitude information (Mode C) to help air traffic controllers to identify the aircraft and to maintain separation. Another mode called Mode S (Mode Select) is designed to help avoiding overinterogation of the transponder (having many radars in busy areas) and to allow automatic collision avoidance. Mode S transponders are 'backwards compatible' with Modes A & C. Mode S is mandatory in controlled airspace in many countries. Some countries have also required, or are moving towards requiring, that all aircraft be equipped with Mode S, even in uncontrolled airspace. However in the field of general aviation, there have been objections to these moves, because of the cost, size, limited benefit to the users in uncontrolled airspace, and, in the case of balloons and gliders, the power requirements during long flights.
Navigational aids often have transponders called RACON designed to make them standout on a ship's radar screen.
Many modern automobiles (especially the more expensive models) have keys with transponders hidden inside the plastic head of the key. The owner of the car may not even be aware that the transponder is there because there are no buttons to press. When a key is inserted into the ignition lock cylinder and turned, the car's computer sends a radio signal to the transponder. Unless the transponder replies with a valid code, the computer will not allow the engine to be started. Transponder keys have no battery; they are energized by the radio signal itself.
Passive and active RFID systems are used in off road events such as Enduro and Hare and Hounds racing, the riders have a transponder on their person, normally on their arm. When they complete a lap they swipe or touch the receiver which is connected to a computer and log their lap time. The Casimo Group Ltd make a system which does this.
NASCAR uses transponders and cable loops placed at numerous points around the track to determine the lineup during a caution period. This system replaced a dangerous race back to the start-finish line.
Source: partly from Federal Standard 1037C and from MIL-STD-188 and from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
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