As Aircraft’s Electrical System refers to a self-contained network with a wide variety of components that help to generate, transfer, distribute, use and store electrical energy within the aircraft (Baklanov, 2008). The electrical system of the aircraft is one of the most basic and integral components of the aircraft, and its complexity and capacity varies considerably from one aircraft to another depending on the power generation process. However, the electrical systems for small aircraft share the majority of electrical components at both ends of the continuum difficulty (Baklanov, 2008). This paper seeks to address the advancements in small aircraft’s electrical systems, with the focus on the improvements made on the small aircrafts using reciprocating engines.
Following various technological advancements in the aviation sector, all small aircraft using reciprocating engines have electrical systems that are capable of generating electricity for use within the aircraft. The power generating components are generators that get driven by a hydraulic motor (APU) or a Ram Air Turbine (RAT) (Bing, 2014). The generators make use of the latest power generation technology and have a power output of 115-120V or 400HZ AC, 14V DC or 28V DC. The generated power may be utilized within the aircraft without further modifications, or it may pass through rectifiers, transformers, or inverters before being used, depending on the desired type of current or Voltage (Bing, 2014).
Small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines have mechanisms which ensure that the generated power get directed to single or multiple distribution buses. Individual components then get powered from such buses, which have circuit protections in the form of fuse or circuit breaker incorporated into the wiring system (Degardin, Lienard, Degaugue, & Laly, 2014). The power output from the reciprocating engines or generators is also used for charging the aircraft’s battery (s). The battery is useful for aircraft startup, as well as acting as emergency source of power when the power generation or distribution system fails (Degardin, Lienard, Degaugue, & Laly, 2014).
Some small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines do not have the installation of electrical systems. Instead, their reciprocating engines are equipped with magneto ignition systems. The magneto ignition system has a self-powering mechanism, and the fuel tank is positioned in such a way that it feeds the engine by way of gravity (Baklanov, 2008). Such reciprocating engines get started by the use of a flywheel and crank arrangement or through “hand-propping” the engine. However, such aircraft have provisions for installing various electrical components such as lights, electric starter, navigation radios, or electric flight instruments when necessary (Baklanov, 2008).
Most today’s small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines have DC (direct current) powered electrical systems through the use of a distribution bus. They also have provisions in the form of on/off switches to allow for the isolation of both the generator and the battery from the distribution bus (Degardin, Lienard, Degaugue, & Laly, 2014). Additionally, the modern small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines have installations of efficient weight sensors, ammeters, and warning light systems that provide accurate indications of carried load, the amount of current, and any charging failure respectively (Degardin, Lienard, Degaugue, & Laly, 2014).
Other small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines have sophisticated electrical systems that use a combination of AC (alternating current) and DC buses in powering various aircraft components. The main power generated in small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines is usually AC with a single or multiple Transformer Rectifier Units (TRU) (Bing, 2014). The TUR helps in converting the generated current from AC to DC so as to power the DC buses. Small aircrafts also have secondary AC generation options from an APU (auxiliary power unit) for use when the engine fails. Additionally, small aircrafts have an extensive failure warning and system monitoring provisions, with easy interpretations of such warnings made to the pilots in the dashboards (2014).
Manufacturers of small Aircrafts that utilize reciprocating engines are currently moving towards cleaner aviation by designing electric-hybrid aircraft. The push towards the introduction of electric-hybrid aircraft is to reduce the level of carbon emissions resulting from the fuel engines used by aircraft. The advancements relating to the design of electric-hybrid power for small aircraft serve as the latest technology being used in improving the power generation system of small aircrafts.
In overall, small aircrafts that use reciprocating engines have undergone tremendous advancements in the context of their electrical systems. Such improvements have contributed significantly towards meeting the increasing power demand placed upon the aircraft’s power generating systems. Various provisions such as secondary and tertiary power generation systems within the small aircraft also contribute to meeting the power requirements in such aircraft. However, effective maintenance of such improved electrical systems requires the aircraft’s management teams to comply with the various policies provided by the manufacturers. In the event of fumes, smoke, or fire from a suspected electrical fault within the aircraft’s electrical system, the manufacturer’s procedures have to be applied immediately and appropriately which, at the same time, initiating an alternative diversion. In cases where the aircraft crew cannot readily identify faulty electrical components within the aircraft, it is advisable to follow the set electrical isolation procedures by the manufacturer.
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Degardin, V., Lienard, M., Degauque, P., & Laly, P. (2014). Investigation on power line communication in aircraft. IET Communications, 8(10), 1868-1874. http://dx.doi.org/10.1049/iet-com.2013.0828