While achieving the ability of flight is of the utmost importance for any aircraft, having enough fuel to reach the intended destination can often be just as crucial. As running out of fuel can be an extremely hazardous situation for any aircraft, having fuel gauges and quantity indicators for tracking the current amount of fuel available for the engine is paramount. The fuel gauge or fuel quantity indicator present in an aircraft may vary depending on the application and type of aerial vehicle, and all may differ in their reliability, design, complexity, etc. As understanding how to use fuel gauges and fuel quantity indicators is necessary for any pilot, current or prospective, we will discuss their general design and functionality in this blog.
Across all aircraft, fuel quantity indicators will often vary in complexity, some being simple components that operate without electrical power while others are more complex with a reliance on electric indicators and electronic capacitors. While certain light aircraft can utilize simplistic, direct reading indicators if their fuel tank is closely situated to the cockpit, other models and larger aircraft must utilize electronic types.
For most aircraft, the way in which fuel quantities are determined is through the placement of indicator elements within the fuel tank. A sight glass is a very simplistic option, and it will come in the form of a glass or plastic tube that will fill with fuel to match the tank. Typically, the sight glass can be calibrated so that measurements are read in gallons, and this can then be used by the pilot to monitor fuel levels. Another common option is to have a sight gauge that is paired with a float and indicating rod, the float being placed in the fuel so that it bobs up and down in the fluids. Meanwhile, the float is connected to the indicating rod which reaches through the fuel cap, allowing for the level of fuel to be measured with ease.
While the fuel level indicator will often determine the amount of fuel that is present within the fuel tank, such components are often paired with fuel gauges for the means of presenting information in an easy to access area as the gauge will be present on the cockpit flight deck. When a fuel gauge is paired with a float, the float will sense the amount of fuel that is present within the tank, and it will then utilize a mechanical linkage connected to the gauge to move a pointer across the face of the dial. The pointer may operate in various ways, some utilizing gears while others take advantage of a magnetic coupling.
For glass cockpit aircraft, digital indicators may be used in lieu of traditional components. With such devices, a variable resistance signal is converted into a digital display that can be presented to the pilot on a screen panel. Electronic fuel quantity systems are fairly common on high-performance aircraft and larger airliners, and while they are more expensive, they lack moving parts. With any fuel gauge and fuel quantity indicator combination, it is important that pilots and crew members carry out regular maintenance to ensure long service lives for all parts.
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