What is an Aircraft Alternator and How Does it Work?

As aircraft continue to advance over the years with the implementation of glass cockpits, improved entertainment systems, and other various electronics, they are increasingly becoming dependent on electricity for their functionalities. Power can come from a number of sources, and the alternator is a common equipment piece that serves many aircraft requirements for powering all electrical components and recharging the battery. As a crucial aspect of countless aircraft, having a general understanding of the alternator and its functionality can be very beneficial.

While the electrical system of an aircraft may vary by the model, the most common components that are present in the average setup include the battery, alternator, voltage regulator, bus bar, and wiring. The battery is a critical component of aircraft functionality, supplying the engine with the power that it needs to successfully initiate operations. Additionally, the battery may also provide the alternator with power if it malfunctions, permitting a restart of the system to resume normal operations. With the use of the bus bar and voltage regulator, the power provided by various sources can efficiently be distributed to all electrical components outside of the starter and managed to ensure proper supply.

The alternator itself is an engine-driven power source, and it utilizes a magnetic field that rotates around stationary coils of wiring to produce a current. Alternators are a useful source of electrical energy as they can produce a sufficient amount of power for all electrical components even when the engine speed is low. Additionally, their output can remain constant throughout fluctuating engine speeds, making them a very dependable and reliable option. Always having a full rated output of power is crucial for many modern aircraft, ensuring that all avionics and flight critical systems retain optimal powering from start to finish.

Alternators are often compared to generators due to their similarities, and there are various advantages that the alternator offers which can make them a better choice for some. While generators can produce a large amount of power that is sufficient for aircraft operations, they are unable to produce a full rated output until the engine RPM has reached fairly high speeds. Additionally, such equipment can often be much heavier than an alternator, all while producing the same amount of energy. Despite this, generators are capable of operation even in the case of a dead battery, meaning that they can be more reliable in certain instances. Nevertheless, both options can be beneficial for aircraft, the choice often coming down to the owner and their specific needs or wants.

If a fault is suspected in the electrical system or alternator, it is important that one knows how to properly troubleshoot such equipment. Generally, inspections should always be conducted with the system’s current wiring diagram and a multimeter measuring device. With the multimeter, the alternator can be checked to ensure that it is on and running, and it is important to properly connect all probes for a proper reading and to avoid a short circuit. Alongside testing the alternator, it can also be useful to check fuses, circuit breakers, the bus bar, the voltage regulator, and other electronic components or systems that may be affecting the supply of power. When carrying out any testing, one should always refer to manufacturer specifications or manuals to ensure that processes are carried out safely and correctly.

With the proper maintenance of alternators and their related components, such systems can reliably provide aircraft of all types with the power needed to operate electrical systems and conduct flight operations. ASAP NSN Distribution is a leading online distributor of aircraft parts, and we are unmatched in our dedication to providing customers with top quality items at competitive prices. As the only independent distributor with a no China sourcing pledge, we ensure that every product comes from top global manufacturers that we trust. Furthermore, we also enact rigorous quality assurance testing and inspections for all purchases prior to their shipment, guaranteeing that customers only receive the best possible items. Begin with a quote for your comparisons on items that you are interested in today when you fill out and submit an RFQ form as provided on our website.


April 8, 2021
March 29, 2021

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