High-Tension Magneto System Theory of Operation – Ignition Switches

in Engine Ignition and Electrical Systems

All units in an aircraft ignition system are controlled by an ignition switch. The type of switch used varies with the number of engines on the aircraft and the type of magnetos used. All switches, however, turn the system off and on in much the same manner. The ignition switch is different in at least one respect from all other types of switches: when the ignition switch is in the off position, a circuit is completed through the switch to ground. In other electrical switches, the off position normally breaks or opens the circuit.

The ignition switch has one terminal connected to the primary electrical circuit between the coil and the breaker contact points. The other terminal of the switch is connected to the aircraft ground structure. As shown in Figure 4-15, two ways to complete the primary circuit are:

  1. Through the closed breaker points to ground and
  2. Through the closed ignition switch to ground.

Figure 4-15 shows that the primary current is not interrupted when the breaker contacts open since there is still a path to ground through the closed, or off, ignition switch. Since primary current is not stopped when the contact points open, there can be no sudden collapse of the primary coil flux field and no high-voltage induced in the secondary coil to fire the spark plug.

Figure 4-15. Typical ignition switch in off position.

Figure 4-15. Typical ignition switch in off position.

As the magnet rotates past the electrical gap (E-gap) position, a gradual breakdown of the primary flux field occurs. But that breakdown occurs so slowly that the induced voltage is too low to fire the spark plug. Thus, when the ignition switch is in the off position with the switch closed, the contact points are as completely short-circuited as if they were removed from the circuit, and the magneto is inoperative.

When the ignition switch is placed in the on position switch open, the interruption of primary current and the rapid collapse of the primary coil flux field is once again controlled or triggered by the opening of the breaker contact points. [Figure 4-16] When the ignition switch is in the on position, the switch has absolutely no effect on the primary circuit.

Figure 4-16. Typical ignition switch in on position.

Figure 4-16. Typical ignition switch in on position.

The ignition/starter switch, or magneto switch, controls the magnetos on or off and can also connect the starter solenoid for turning the starter. When a starting vibrator, a box that emits pulsating direct current (DC), is used on the engine, the ignition/starter switch is used to control the vibrator and retard points. This system is explained in detail later in this chapter. Some ignition starter switches have a push to prime feature during the starting cycle. This system allows additional fuel to spray into the intake port of the cylinder during the starting cycle.

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