When operating an aircraft, there are many parameters and conditions that a pilot must monitor to ensure that a safe and efficient flight is carried out. In order for a pilot to best carry out a flight, they must always be aware of things such as engine fuel levels and fuel consumption rates, ensuring that operations are planned and performed with acknowledgement for when fuel will run low and require replenishment. As such, to maintain readings on fuel levels and consumption, devices known as fuel level sensors are employed in aircraft.
While an indicator is a gauge or display that presents a pilot with readings on various conditions, the sender of the sensing system is what actually obtains a reading. In terms of aviation fuel systems, fuel sensors often comprise elements that measure voltage levels across a variable resistor for the means of determining the amount of fuel within a tank. For such sensing systems, parts like a float switch, variable resistor, and wiper are common. While more modern and advanced options may take advantage of microprocessors and other such technology, the more conventional options are as described before.
As one would assume, the fuel sensor needs to be placed within the fuel tank to obtain readings, and a float made of foam and an actuating metal rod will sit in fuel while having a connection to a variable resistor. As the float moves up and down in the fuel tank alongside the fuel itself, a wiper will adjust across the resistor in response. This results in voltage adjustments based on the orientation of the wiper that correlate to fuel level changes. When the tank is empty, the wiper will create a high amount of resistance across the resistor. Meanwhile, full tanks will cause the wiper to move away from the ground end, causing a low resistance reading.
Despite being fairly straightforward and simplistic, the float-type fuel level sensor is not always the most accurate of all options. This is because floats tend to become submerged when the tank is full, meaning that an accurate reading may not be possible until fuel drops enough for the float to start moving with it. In other instances, fuel may also be too low for the rod to fully extend downward, leading to a reading that indicates an empty tank, even when there is still fuel left to be burned.
As aircraft fuel tanks are much larger than the ones commonly found in automobiles, more sensors will need to be placed. Additionally, the accuracy requirements for aviation are more rigorous than those for automobiles as a result of industry regulations, increased concerns for safety, etc. As a result, such vehicles regularly employ ultrasonic or capacitance sensors that conduct readings by having signals sent through tanks or by routing fuel through special vents to determine capacitance. Regardless of the method of obtaining readings, measurements will always be presented to pilots via onboard computing systems or gauges.
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