Aircraft arc fault detection ahead of schedule

The development of a new arc fault detection technology for aircraft is ahead of schedule and has entered a new prototype design validation phase.

Mechanical wear, environmental effects and thermal stress on wiring insulation in commercial, regional, commuter and business aircraft has resulted in intermittent, sputtering electrical arcs that could become flash points for fire. These arcs can reach temperatures of 6000 degrees C or more.

To help out, Eaton is developing a line of arc fault circuit interrupter products that use integrated electronics to diagnose when arcing or intermittent short circuiting occurs in the wiring, then immediately acts to isolate or de-energize the circuit from the rest of the system. Because most aircraft wiring is packed in tight bundles and hidden from plain view, remote detection is considered a particularly important safety feature.

A recent two-year contract from the Federal Aviation Administration and US Navy totaling $1 million involves Eaton Aerospace adapting the company’s proprietary arc fault circuit interruption (AFCI) technology into the miniature circuit breakers in an aircraft’s typical 400Hz electrical system.

Eaton has conducted operational performance data collection of the new AFCI product on the FAA’s B727 testbed aircraft. In addition, several operational sizes are being developed to meet both civilian and military installation requirements.

Initial target applications are for non-critical circuits, such as entertainment systems. In the near future, the AFCI product will be available for use to enhance circuit protection in all applications of an aircraft’s electrical system.

AFCI technology was recently the subject of a Congressional hearing on aircraft electrical system safety. The goal of the hearing included the accelerated deployment of this critical safety aerospace technology.

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