Fuel Gauge Systems in Aircraft
Running out of fuel while driving a car can be a frustrating experience and mean a wasted afternoon. Running out of fuel while flying an aircraft, however, can verge on disastrous. For the aviation industry, proper fuel quantity indication is incredibly important, given the human lives and millions of dollars of property that can be put at risk if a commercial airliner runs out of fuel mid-flight.
However, measuring fuel levels can be a deeply challenging task. Changes in altitude during flight can affect the volume and density of liquid fuels, which are normally useful metrics for fuel level sensing floats within the tank or capacitors. Turbulence can also agitate fuel, leading to similar difficulties, and larger aircraft with two engines and two or more fuel tanks simply compound these issues. Therefore, pilots are trained to gauge the remaining fuel themselves by taking into account the amount of fuel on takeoff, along with the average rate of engine consumption for the speed and altitude they are flying at. This can give pilots an accurate picture of how long their aircraft can remain in the sky. However, malfunctions like fuel leaks, fuel line blockages, or excessive fuel consumption because of an engine malfunction can obviously change the rate of consumption, so pilots must compliment their own calculations with the fuel level sensors
Many smaller aircraft utilize float level gauges that feed information on the fuel levels based on magnetic couplings and potentiometers to the pilot, while larger aircraft with more complicated fuel systems
rely on a network of capacitance probes. These capacitors are mounted in the fuel tank, and as fuel is consumed and enters the tanks through special vents, the tank’s capacitance alters, allowing tank levels to be calculated by the on-board computer. Multi-level fuel sensors can be employed to indicate dangerously low tank levels to the pilot, and as a redundancy precaution in case one sensor fails. Fuel systems can also rely on pressure and temperature sensors to ensure proper rates of fuel injection, and to prevent harmful condensation.
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Posted on September 16, 2019