In 2016, over 700 million passengers took to the skies in the United States alone, based on the number of times someone boarded a plane for a one-way trip. And, even with that number of travelers, flying remains one of the safer forms of transportation statistically. Part of what makes flying comparatively safe is the strict guidelines involved in the proper operation and maintenance of passenger aircraft. Meeting these standards is no easy feat and, in fact, requires numerous precision instruments, including flow meters.
The aviation industry requires a level of precision that would surprise many people. Additionally, the environment in which the systems must operate often includes extreme and harsh conditions, limited space, and complex electronic equipment. To help things function properly, everything from actuators to fuel pumps need to operate within restrictive acceptable windows of accuracy. Otherwise, it could result in mid-air failures that could yield catastrophic results.
Flow meters are used in aviation to monitor the rate of flow for a range of fluids including fuel, hydraulic fluids, lubricants, and more. To help understand the role of flow meters in aviation, here is an overview of some of the more common functions.
One of the most vital roles flow meters play in the aviation industry is to monitor fuel consumption and management. These devices help aviators control the rate at which fuel enters the system, while also tracking the amount of fuel that has passed through the system. All engines, including those used in aircraft, require a precise mixture of fuel and air for combustion. Failure to control the release of fuel into the engines can create an improper mixture, which ultimately affects performance and can even lead to failure. Additionally, monitoring the rate at which it enters the engine system can ensure that sufficient fuel remains to complete the remainder of the trip safely.
Flow meters also play an important role when refueling an aircraft. Just as the pumps at a consumer gas station use flow meters to measure the amount of gasoline being dispensed, flow meters attached to fuel pumps that fill aircraft fuel tanks perform the same function. This allows the person filling the plane to track the amount that has been dispensed. Since many aircraft are not filled completely for every flight, instead of being filled an appropriate amount for the upcoming journey, this ensures enough fuel is provided for every trip.
Hydraulic systems are highly prevalent in the aviation industry. Everything from landing gear and brakes to flight control surfaces and flaps use hydraulic power systems to complete their actions. To operate properly, the right amount of hydraulic fluid must be present. This ensures a sufficient amount of pressure is present within the system for the required action.
Incorrect amounts of hydraulic fluid can lead to significant functional difficulties. For example, landing gear may fail to deploy, or the brakes may not be able to apply pressure to slow the aircraft once it is on the ground.
Flow meters have the ability to measure hydraulic fluid within the systems as it passes between points. By being able to track volume and currently viscosity, it is possible to confirm the amount of fluid present to ensure proper operations and that it is at the right viscosity to provide proper resistance when the systems are in use.
Additionally, in situations where hydraulic fluid must be flushed from the system and replaced, flow meters can track the amount of fluid coming out of the system as well as the amount being sent back in. That ensures the right volume of fluid is present after the replacement is made.
Another area where automobiles and aircraft are similar is the need for lubricants. Most people are responsible for getting the oil changed in their car on a regular schedule. When oil is changed, a specific amount needs to be added back into the system to ensure proper operation. And, when the oil is pumped into the system by an auto shop, a flow meter helps confirm the right amount has been added.
Aircraft also require oil changes, just like ground vehicles, though they often use more oil during the changing process. In fact, an airplane may use four times the amount of a traditional passenger car, or even more, depending on its size. Also, these aircraft lubricants come in different types, just as oil designed for cars comes in different weights, with each type designed to protect specific types of engines.
However, not all aircraft go through full oil changes like people are often used to with their personal vehicles. In fact, many commercial airlines and private owners choose just to perform regular top-ups, effectively adding clean oil to replace any that has been lost during normal operation. During the replacement process, a flow meter is used to track the amount of oil added, so that safe operations can continue.
Multiple Flow Meters are Involved in the Aviation Industry
Not every aircraft or associated system uses the same kind of flow meter to get the job done. In most cases, multiple flow meters perform tasks related to maintaining a single aircraft. Some of the more common flow meters in use include:
- Open Channel Flow Meters
- Mass Flow Meters
- Turbine Flow Meters
- Positive Displacement Flow Meters
- Variable Area Flow Meters
- Velocity Flow Meters
Additionally, every flow meter must be properly maintained and calibrated. All flow meters become inaccurate over time through regular use, meaning that regular re-calibrations must be completed based on specific calculations and general standards to ensure proper operation. Failure to calibrate the equipment means that the readings provided by the flow meters may be inaccurate and could result in system issues or even failures that could pose significant safety risks to those operating or riding in the aircraft.
The Bottom Line
With the level of precision required within the aviation industry, it is no surprise that high-quality flow meters play a critical role in standard operations. Without flow meters, people may have a difficult time assessing whether the right amount of a specific fluid is present, resulting in safety issues that could lead to serious trouble. With that in mind, flow meters designed for the aviation industry are made of the highest quality materials and to specific industry standards. That way, everyone working in the industry and flying the skies can be in the safest environment possible at all times.