Aircraft Systems: Which one is the most important?

by Will Rondeau – the 360- En-COMPASSS-ing General Aviation Safety

EAA863 has a strong emphasis on learning. Indeed, a good pilot is always learning. Join EAA863’s own Will Rondeau as he explains aircraft systems.

How many systems are there on an aircraft? The 1903 Wright Flyer above had only a
few, one motor driving two propellers, the wings and flight controls. Our aircraft of today
have many more systems for us to be knowledgeable about and also to know how
to control each system.

Parts of an Aircraft - Wright 1903 Flyer
Image courtesy of NASA

Let’s take a system and check it out. The engine or power plant is a good place to start.
The engine produces thrust and to do this the engine requires many other systems
contained within the engine system. For example take a simple 4 cylinder engine. What
does is require to make our engine run? The following Sub-Systems:

  • Fuel; the fuel system includes these sub systems:
    • Fuel Tank
    • An electric powered fuel pump-that sends fuel to the engine
    • Engine driven fuel pump which increases the pressure (PSI) to the induction system,
    • Carburetor which mixes the fuel with outside air; or fuel injection system
    • Fuel manifold and Fuel lines
    • Fuel quantity indicator(s).
  • Oil system; the engine also has an oil system, comprised of:
    • Oil quantity
    • Oil tank or pump
    • An internal engine circulation system – oil
      • indication systems
      • pressure gauges
      • temperature
  • Propeller; the propeller is driven by the drive shaft from the engine,
    • a constant speed propeller requires engine oil pressure to lubricate the prop.
  • Spark; to make the fuel ignite within the cylinders:
    • Magnetos driven by the engine, to produce the needed spark.

There are so many systems to be aware of on any aircraft. When we start flying more complicated aircraft the systems also get more complicated and there are more of them!
When I talk to classes of young aviators I usually ask what system do each of them think is the most important? I hear answers like:

  • Engines
  • Instruments
  • Radios
  • Electrical

For me the most important system on any aircraft are the Flight Controls; be-cause when all those other systems fail, you must be able to control the aircraft; but that’s just me.

Here’s is a little history for you: the first recorded crash in the US was on September 17, 1908. Orville Wright was demonstrating the Wright Flyer to Lieutenant Selfridge, when a propeller split and cut through a rigging wire. The rudder failed and this caused loss of the flight controls. This condition did not allow Orville to control the aircraft as he tried to make a dead stick landing into the field. This loss of all the flight controls caused the first fatality in a powered aircraft.


Cover photo credit: Image by Lynn Greyling from Pixabay

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