From takeoff to landing, all aircraft require some sort of electrical power for important functions such as navigation, intercoms, COM and NAV radios, and more. With in-flight entertainment and increasingly modernized systems, this need for electricity is ever more present. To get power, aircraft often use electric power generation through generators and alternators. Both of these systems produce power for the aircraft but differ in method, as well as have various benefits and drawbacks when compared to each other.
The aircraft generator works through a stationary magnet and a rotating electromagnet that spins within the magnetic field, producing an electrical current for use. Generators are simple and produce power by mechanical motion. For generators to start producing ample power for charging the aircraft battery, however, the engine RPM usually needs to exceed 1200. Generators also have the drawback of being very heavy and require maintenance such as cleaning and greasing often.
Aircraft Alternators, on the other hand, are becoming widely used on more modern aircraft, which require more power from the start of the flight, as well as with changing systems. Alternators utilize rotating magnetic fields in a stationary coil to produce electricity. Alternators have the benefit of being able to produce at full output while the engine remains at low RPM. They also have the benefit of being very light as compared to standard generators, due to not having a heavy internal magnet. With their higher idling power generation and light weight, alternators are useful for many aircraft.
While alternators generally are seen as more favorable compared to generators for many aircraft, there are still some benefits of the generator that can outweigh those of the alternator. For one, generators do not require the extra circuitry that alternators do to convert alternating currents to direct currents. They are also not sensitive to problems that alternators face, such as reversed polarity and errant electrical spikes. Lastly, generators have the ability to produce power even when the battery is dead.
Despite their differences, the generator and alternator are both very viable aircraft electric power generation options for providing electricity during successful and smooth flights. Both have their various benefits and drawbacks that make them fairly equal contenders to each other depending on the type of aircraft and their needs. Alternators prove useful for modern aircraft and those that need power from the very start of the flight. Generators, on the other hand, are simplistic, reliable, and have less sensitivities to possible outside forces.
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