Deposition of vertically oriented carbon nanofibers (CNFs) has been studied in an atmospheric pressure radio frequency discharge without dielectric barrier covering the metallic electrodes. When the frequency is sufficiently high so that ions reside in the gap for more than one rf cycle ("trapped ions"), the operating voltage decreases remarkably and the transition from a uniform glow discharge to an arc discharge is suppressed even without dielectric barriers. More importantly, the trapped ions are able to build up a cathodic ion sheath. A large potential drop is created in the sheath between the bulk plasma and the electrode, which is essential for aligning growing CNFs. At the same time, the damage to CNFs due to ion bombardment can be minimized at atmospheric pressure. The primary interest of the present work is in identifying the cathodic ion sheath and investigating how it influences the alignment of growing CNFs in atmospheric pressure plasma-enhanced chemical-vapor deposition. Spectral emission profiles of He (706 nm), Hα (656 nm), and CH (432 nm) clearly showed that a dark space is formed between the cathode layer and the heated bottom electrode. However, increasing the rf power induced the transition to a nonuniform γ -mode discharge which creates intense plasma spots in the dark space. Aligned CNFs can be grown at moderate input power during the initial stage of the deposition process. Catalyst particles were heavily contaminated by precipitated carbon in less than 5 min. Alignment deteriorates as CNFs grow and deposition was virtually terminated by the deactivation of catalyst particles.