Your Guide to Aircraft Electrical Systems

The safe and efficient operation of aircraft relies upon a number of integrated systems, including those involved in flight control, hydraulics, avionics, and fuel, among others. While these modalities tend to operate independently, they all share one common feature: the electrical system. It is this complex arrangement of components that provides power to the vessel throughout flight and ground operations. 

Although electrical systems have rapidly evolved over the years, the alternator has remained a staple in power generation. These devices work by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy and are driven by the engine during routine operations. In particular, an element called the rotor rotates and produces a current that is captured in the coils found in the stator.

The alternator is a reliable and efficient power source for the duration of the flight. However, it cannot be the sole electrical contributor given it requires a spun-up and functioning engine to operate. As a result, airplanes are also equipped with a battery which stores electrical energy that can be used to power the starter and other vital systems during the event of an emergency. Although the battery is inspected and charged in between flights, it is also commonly paired with a dedicated alternator to ensure a minimum charge in the event of an emergency. Although the exact time that the battery can support systems is highly variable, the 30-60 minute timeframe encompasses most commercial aircraft.

With a complete understanding of power generation and storage, it is now important to discuss delivery. This action is enabled by a series of circuit breakers and cables that span the entirety of the airframe. Aerospace wiring tends to be flexible and well-insulated due to the demanding operating conditions. The conductor portion, most commonly composed of copper, must have low resistivity, high ductility, and must be easy to solder. Supporting the wiring systems are a series of circuit breakers which are electromechanical devices that protect the circuit from overvoltage.

As aviation technology continues to develop, an increasing number of systems will become reliant on electrical power. Currently, the navigation, communication, and instrumentation systems are among the vital components dependent on a sustained current. Moreover, a wide range of subsystems involved with lighting, entertainment, and comfort are also dependent upon a functioning powerhouse.

In order to optimize for safe travel, a robust preventative maintenance program should be adopted by the individual operator or airline. This program should first include an inspection task, which may involve a visual inspection of wiring, circuit breakers, or other easy-to-access components. In addition to the visual aspect, crews may also consider performing part-specific testing to ensure compliance with given parameters. These trials may include load testing of batteries, fuse time, or millivolt drop tests. Electrical components should also be regularly treated with anticorrosive agents, particularly for those operating in humid or coastal regions. Finally, it is necessary to keep up with all software updates and technical data set forward by the manufacturer or FAA, as these documents provide valuable insight into common or specific issues.

When your operations call for reliable electrical system components, look no further than Complete Sourcing Solutions. As an industry-leading aerospace parts distributor, we offer customers direct access to an all-inclusive purchasing platform comprising over 2 billion ready-to-purchase items. We offer our entire inventory with competitive pricing and expedited shipping. We invite you to peruse our inventory at your leisure, and keep in mind that you may initiate the purchasing process at any time using our Instant RFQ service. If you have further questions about any products or our services, feel free to contact our team at your earliest convenience.


December 20, 2022

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