When we think of the things we need to fly, we usually think of the engine. Afterall, combustion is what powers the plane. So, it’s easy to fixate on the engine and neglect the alternator. But, without the alternator, we don’t have access to our digital nav/com radios, integrated GPS, multifunction flight displays, and so on.
The reliability of your aircraft’s alternator relies heavily on routine maintenance and inspections. Typically, inspections happen every 100 flight-hours, with a more thorough one every 500 flight-hours. These inspections are important because they can warn you of any impending issues, ultimately preventing a blowout or loss of power.
When inspecting your alternator, you should begin with the alternator belt. You’re looking to make sure the belt has proper tension and pulley alignment, and that it’s free of significant wear/damage. Just like with your car’s tires, you can tell if the alignment is off based on the wear of the belt; Most of the wear should come from the sides of the V-portion because they do must of the work. If the wear is misaligned, this could be an indicator that the pulleys are out of place or the mounts are shifting.
Next, inspect the actual alternator. It should be somewhat clean and free of carbon dust; the presence of significant carbon dust may warrant a more significant internal inspection of your alternator. All electrical wires should be fully secured and without abrasions— abrasions can lead to alternator failure (dead battery) and disconnected wires can lead to a failed direct current.
The battery directly supports the alternator, which is why it is so important to inspect all of the attached wires. The battery’s diodes allow the alternator to convert alternating current into direct current. A dead battery can still function, but, if the battery is disconnected, it serves no purpose at all. For these reasons, it’s vital to ensure that when you’re switching from one battery to another, the system should never be without power.
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