What Are Aircraft Accumulators?
When utilizing the aircraft hydraulic system for many flight pertinent operations, it is critical that there is something in place to ensure that sufficient power is provided for actuation and surges in pressure are mitigated. With aircraft accumulators, the aircraft hydraulic system can operate safely and efficiently, accommodating for varying needs. The main functions of an aircraft accumulator include mitigating pressure surges within the hydraulic system, storing power for when pumps fail to operate, compensation for internal or external leaking, as well as power pump aid for extra force. Across aircraft that have hydraulic systems, there are often also multiple accumulators present in the main system, as well as within varying subsystems.
Aircraft accumulators themselves are steel spheres that have two chambers separated by a synthetic rubber diaphragm. Within the upper chamber of the accumulator, fluid is kept and is held at system pressure. The lower chamber, meanwhile, is charged with either air or nitrogen. Across types, the two most commonly used aircraft accumulators are the spherical and cylindrical type.
In regards to the spherical type accumulator, two halves are attached together through welding or are fastened and threaded. A top port on the accumulator allows for the pressurized hydraulic system to be connected. Meanwhile, a bottom valve permits the attachment of a gas servicing valve. To create the two separate chambers, a synthetic rubber diaphragm is placed. To ensure that the diaphragm can not protrude through the port when there is no hydraulic pressure, a screen at the fluid pressure port is installed.
For cylindrical aircraft accumulators, a cylinder and piston assembly is present with end caps installed on each end of the cylinder. Similar to the diaphragm of the spherical type accumulator, an aircraft piston within the cylindrical type is what is used to separate the fluid and air/nitrogen chamber. With the end caps and various gaskets sealing the piston, external leakage between the chambers is prevented. To attach the hydraulic system and filler valve to the cylindrical accumulator, fittings are utilized and attached to the end caps.
To begin operation, aircraft accumulators charge the compressed air chamber to a specific amount that is below that of the system operating pressure; a process which is usually referred to as the accumulator preload. At this time, the hydraulic system pressure is zero, causing the piston to shift towards the opposite end. To create actuation of the piston, the hydraulic piston pump will increase pressure to surpass that of the compressed air chamber. Once the hydraulic system reaches a pressure equal to that of the system operating pressure, the piston returns to its standard operating position while air is compressed. At this point, when hydraulic actuators lower the system pressure, the compressed air begins to emit force against the piston, causing fluid to leave the accumulator, actuating a command. With this stored energy, components may also be actuated in the case of a piston pump failure.
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