Why Are Alternators More Desirable for Aircraft over Generators?

For a modern aircraft to optimally carry out all the processes needed for navigation, communication, takeoffs, etc., they require a form of electrical power. While generators have served many aircraft well for power generation over the years, the alternator has quickly become a standard facet of modern design. While both systems can provide reliable and consistent powering, there are various aspects of the alternator that make it more desirable for aerospace applications as compared to more conventional generators.

With a typical aircraft generator, power is created by transforming mechanical energy into electrical energy. By utilizing a stationary magnet and a rotating coil, a magnetic field can be generated and harnessed by slip rings in the form of AC voltage. As DC voltage is the most common form for powering appliances, a commutator will rectify the voltage for use by the aircraft. To generate the mechanical energy needed to produce a magnetic field, the generator relies on the rotation of the aircraft engine for charging its battery. As such, generators cannot be operated during low RPM activity, and thus all power is derived from the charged battery until the engine speeds up.
With an alternator, some components remain the same, albeit perform different roles. Rather than having a rotating coil revolve around a permanent magnet, alternators feature a rotating magnetic field and a stationary coil. As such, alternating current can be created and rectified by internal diodes to be used by the aircraft. While a magnet may be used to create the magnetic field for an alternator, electromagnets are the most common. Alternators also rely on the battery to create their magnetic field, and thus cannot be operated with a dead battery.
While both seem similar in their ability to create electricity, the alternator is actually able to generate more power with a similar sized unit. Additionally, alternators tend to be much lighter in regard to their weight, that of which is a major advantage for aircraft due to the importance of minimizing loads. With the operation that alternators undertake to create electricity, their output is also higher than a generator during engine idling which can be beneficial during ground operations.
With the various advantages that alternators offer, it is easy to see why they have proven more popular for powering applications as compared to the generator. Nevertheless, it is always important to understand the various downsides to alternators as well, such as their inability to function without a charged battery. As such, the decision between each type should always come down to various factors such as the aircraft’s size, weight limits, implemented electronics, and more. Additionally, one may always refer to specific guidebooks, manuals, and other information that relates to the specific aircraft they are operating in order to find manufacturer recommendations. Last, but not least, any operator should become very familiar with the generator or alternator that they choose for their aircraft, as emergencies and issues often require sufficient knowledge of the system and its operations in order to best approach a solution.
At JetParts360, we can help you secure all the components that you need for powering your aircraft. With available items such as generator brackets, generator assembly engine parts, alternator accessory kits, and more, we can ensure that your operations always run smoothly and efficiently. We invite you to explore our expansive part catalogs at your leisure where you can find over 2 billion new, used, and obsolete items that have been sourced from top global manufacturers. To ensure that customers only receive what is best, we subject each and every component to rigorous quality assurance testing, inspection, and cross-referencing. Begin the purchasing process today and experience how JetParts360 is revolutionizing the part procurement process for the benefit of our customers.


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