With the rapid modernization of aircraft, more electronic components such as navigation systems, intercoms, and even flight amenities such as entertainment systems all need power. With the increased demands of power from the beginning of each flight, many current aircraft have turned to alternators over generators as their source of power generation. In this blog, we will explore how alternators produce power, as well as how they can prove beneficial to some aircraft as compared to standard generators.
Alternators produce their power through the use of a rotating magnetic field in a stationary coil. Within these systems, the magnetic field is spun in windings called a stator. Alternators convert alternating currents (AC) to direct currents (DC) through the use of diodes that force currents to flow only in one direction. This creates smooth and stable output for a cheap cost as diodes can be produced for as low as one dollar per trio when manufactured in large quantities. Alternators work in the opposite of a generator that has a stationary magnet and an electromagnet that rotates within the magnetic field, but they are more efficient in producing the same output as generators.
Compared to generators, alternators can be very cost effective and useful. They can be brought up to speed much quicker than generators and are much lighter without having an internal magnet. Alternators also operate at peak performance at much lower RPMs and produce much more power while at idle speeds. While an alternator needs to be initially powered by a battery, the alternator can then supply electrical equipment power and recharge the battery during use. Alternators also have low maintenance requirements and downtime due to having fewer “hard to diagnose” problems as compared to a generator, and can be replaced in as little as 30 minutes when needed. While generators are still a very reliable and effective way to power aircraft, alternators are quickly proving to be an extremely useful alternative of power generation for larger aircraft and for flights that have many aircraft electrical systems that need power from the very start of the flight.
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