The Modern Aircraft Electrical System

As aircraft continue to modernize with advanced glass cockpits and improved avionics, more and more components are reliant on the aircraft electrical system. While early aircraft may have been entirely non-reliant on electrical generation, current aircraft rely on powering for navigation, COM and NAV radios, intercoms, in-flight entertainment, and more. From batteries to circuit breakers, there are many aircraft electrical system components that work together to provide powering of the aircraft.

No matter how simple or robust of an airplane electrical system, one of the most basic and important components is the battery bus. A bus is an electrical conductor which carries power from the starter to the battery to charge it, as well as distributes power throughout the entirety of the aircraft through connected buses. For safety, the battery and battery bus are isolated from the rest of the aircraft electrical system so that in the case of a failure, the entire system is not affected. To further safety and redundancy of the system, some aircraft may even have two generating sources of power and two engines that each supply electricity to different components and flight instruments.

For the actual production of power for aircraft electrical system components, alternators or generators may be used. In general, both alternators and generators harness and transform rotational energy into electrical power. Alternators produce alternating current (AC) and are quite light as compared to generators. They also may produce power at full output even while the engine has low RPM. The drawbacks of alternators are that they may be susceptible to reversed polarity and errant electrical spikes.

Generators, on the other hand, are more simple in their production of power through mechanical motion. To charge the aircraft battery, the engine RPM typically must surpass 1,200. Generators also are heavier than alternators, sometimes being an issue if weight is of great concern. The major benefit of generators as compared to alternators is that they can continue to generate power even after the battery is dead.

With circuit breakers, pilots can rest easy knowing that, even in the case of a short circuit, critical aircraft electrical system components and flight instruments will be protected from damage. The circuit breaker within an aircraft may also serve as an on-off switch which the pilot can use to ensure correct operation. For example, if the pilot deploys the emergency landing gear of the aircraft, they may also pull the breaker so that errant signals and commands cannot be given to the landing gear. Depending on the aircraft, circuit breakers may be within reach of the pilot, or located outside of the cockpit to encourage more concern and investigation of popped circuits.

Altogether, the aircraft electrical system is one that is constantly advancing as technology improves. With the introduction of glass cockpits and moving more flight instruments and components over to electrical power, having a safe and protected system is critical. Depending on the aircraft, there may be a variety of starter, wiring, and battery layouts. When it comes time to begin sourcing the aircraft electrical system components, electrical testing systems, and flight instruments that you need for your next project or operation, NSN Components has you covered with everything you need. NSN Components is owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, and we can help you find the aircraft, marine, and IT parts parts that you are searching for, new or obsolete. As a premier supplier of parts for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries, we're always available and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7x365. ASAP Semiconductor is an FAA AC 00-56B accredited and ISO 9001:2015 certified enterprise. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at +1-714-705-4780.


September 27, 2022

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