What are the Types of Electric Motors Used in Aircraft?
An electric motor is a type of machine that is capable of transforming electrical energy into mechanical energy, and they are utilized for a multitude of applications that involve electricity. In the current age, almost half of all global electricity is made possible through electric motors, and their uses span from simple household items to commercial applications. In the realm of aerospace, electric motors are beginning to find use in the development of electric aircraft and drones, providing power for operation.
While many industries have been revolutionized by the power of electricity throughout the years, the aerospace industry is one that has only been recently able to begin making breakthroughs to fully harness its power for propulsion. For standard commercial international travel, aircraft often rely on large internal combustion engines and the ignition of fuel and air mixtures to maintain heavier-than-air-flight. Electricity nevertheless has played a major part in aircraft operation, often being used for power generation, engine starting, air conditioning, flight control, lighting, flight instrument operation, and much more. As studies into the electric motor continue, the realization of an electric propulsion system is becoming ever closer.
For an electric motor to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, they typically rely on the interaction of electric current that is passed through a wire winding to generate a magnetic field for the production of torque. Although there are various different motors, the main two types for classification include direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) motors.
The DC motor is an electric rotary motor class that utilizes direct current electrical energy to create mechanical energy. DC motors come in various forms, including the electromagnetic motor, brushed motor, and brushless motor. With such internal mechanisms, the DC motor can periodically change the direction of current within the motor. The range of DC motor applications depends on their size, and they can be used within tools, appliances, electric vehicles, elevators, and more. To create mechanical energy, a coil of wire is energized, which in turn produces an electromagnetic field. By adjusting the current’s direction and magnitude, the electromagnetic field may be governed. The electromagnetic field is critical for the operation of the motor, as it is what causes the magnets within the stator to produce torque and force the armature to generate rotational mechanical energy.
The AC motor is similar to the DC motor, though it harnesses alternating current to be driven. Outside of the motor, a stator with coils is energized with current to generate a magnetic field, and an internal rotor connected to a shaft is used to produce a secondary magnetic field. The two most common types of AC motors include the induction motor and the synchronous motor, differing in the fact of if an induction, or slip, is present. In regards to the induction motor, torque is produced through electromagnetic induction, and operation is asynchronous. The synchronous motor, on the other hand, features a locked rate and does not need induction in order to create the rotor magnetic field.
While both of these motors may be used for basic electronic components powering within aircraft, they are not quite capable of producing propulsion for flight as such technology currently stands. To achieve such capabilities, the electromagnetic behavior of motors must be optimized for their weight to be beneficial for an aircraft. Currently, a number of aircraft projects are moving towards hybrid electric aircraft construction, utilizing the power of electric motors as much as possible to aid in operation as technology continues to move us towards a fully electric aircraft.
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