As compared to the early aircraft designed during the initial debut of powered flight, most modern aircraft are heavily reliant on electricity for their standard operations, safety, and efficiency. Whether for collecting flight pertinent data or for providing visibility in a cabin during low-light conditions, electrical power is used in many different forms during a typical operation. In order to supply all electronic systems and apparatuses with power and to create a network for current transportation, a large number of electrical wires and cables are implemented. In this blog, we will discuss the wire and cabling systems that serve aircraft, as well as the circuit protection elements put in place to ensure optimal operations and safety.
To understand the electrical system of an aircraft, one must first be aware of the difference between electrical cable components and wires. In their most basic form, electrical wires are simply single solid conductors or strands that are encapsulated with insulation and a protective sheath. Meanwhile, cables are a combination of two or more wires, those of which are placed within the same insulation, twisted together, covered with a metallic outer conductor, or situated within a metallic braid. While the terms “cable” and “wire” are often used interchangeably by many, they are two separate component types and should be treated as such.
Across an aircraft, there are a number of wire and cable installations, each of which is specifically designed to perform a certain role or accommodate a particular system. Generally, the most common types of wires and cables found on an aircraft include airframe wires and cables, equipment wires and cables, ignition system cables, thermocouple cables, data bus cables, and radio-frequency cables. As all wires and cables necessitate careful installation and maintenance to ensure reliability and performance, one must take the time to correctly choose and implement solutions based on what is needed.
As compared to wiring and cabling in other settings, the electronic components within an aircraft are subjected to a large number of stressors and interference. Typically, the main conditions that electronics will be subjected to are exposure to hydraulic fluid, fuel, oil, extreme temperatures, abrasion, and vibration. Depending on what conditions a particular assembly may face, wires or cables will be designed with ample protection. For example, data bus cable components that are carrying digital data will have shielding against electromagnetic interference to uphold the quality of data.
Whether you are using a coaxial cable for data transfer or an assembly for the engine system or ignition system, all cables and wires must be physically flexible to be installed while avoiding issues that result from vibration. Copper is one of the most widely used conductive materials for such assemblies, due to its low resistivity, high ductility, ease of soldering, and high tensile strength.
With all electronic systems and components comes the inherent risk of faults and short circuits, those of which can be detrimental to the health of parts as well as overall safety. To avoid the various risks associated with electrical faults, aircraft are fitted with circuit breakers and aircraft fuses for safeguarding. While circuit breakers are resettable after a fault occurs, aircraft fuses must be replaced when they deter a spike in electricity.
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