What are the Two Most Generally Used Conductors in Aircraft?
Modern aircraft rely heavily on properly functioning electrical systems as part of routine operation. All of these electrical systems are powered and connected by a series of deliberately crafted wires. In this blog, we will discuss the most common conductors used in aircraft wiring so that you may better understand the electrical systems of an aircraft.
Before getting into the nuance of materials used in wiring, it is essential to review the basics of what a wire is. A wire is one or more conductors bound together and protected by an insulating material. These conductors can either be twisted or braided together. Regardless of what the wire is made of, it must withstand the severe environmental conditions that it is likely to encounter. The areas with the most exposure to the elements are labeled SWAMP zones, which stands for "Severe Wind and Moisture Problem."
A conductor is a material that allows for the flow of electrons in either direction of a circuit. Conductors have different quantitative properties that describe how easily these electrons will flow through the material. Resistance is the opposition to the flow of electrons. It varies depending on the material used for the conductor and is inversely proportional to its cross-sectional area. On the other hand, conductivity is the quantitative measurement of the ease of electrons to flow through the same material. It is essential to understand these characteristics when attempting to understand the conductors used in avionics.
The two most commonly used conductors are copper and aluminum. Copper was chosen because of its high conductivity, tensile strength, and ability to be soldered easily. It is more expensive than other common conductor options but is still used due to these favorable properties. However, because the outermost layer of copper develops a resistant oxide at high temperatures, the bare copper is coated with silver or nickel before being used in wiring. The other material used as a conductor is aluminum. While aluminum is 60% less conductive than copper, it is much cheaper and lighter. Therefore, it is still used with equal regularity.
The materials chosen for insulation are just as significant and are thus explained. Insulators must withstand abrasion, corrosion, flames, smoke emission, fluids, and more. In older aircraft, polyvinyl chloride and polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) was used, but material development has given engineers new and safer options. Modern aircraft use materials like ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (Tefzel) that exhibit a much more favorable tensile strength and chemical resistance properties. And since most electric wiring runs through parts of the aircraft that are not frequently inspected, heat resistance remains the most critical characteristic regarding material selection.
Most modern avionics on current airplanes contain sensitive electronic components that can damage electrical circuits if not adequately shielded. The phenomenon that causes this damage is called electromagnetic interference (EMI), which occurs when the radio waves from the avionics systems induce high frequency (HF) voltages in the wire.
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