Timing the High-tension Magneto to the Engine

in Engine Ignition and Electrical Systems

When replacing magnetos on aircraft engines, two factors must be considered:

  1. The internal timing of the magneto, including breaker point adjustment, which must be correct to obtain maximum potential voltage from the magneto.
  2. The engine crankshaft position where the spark occurs. The engine is usually timed by using the No. 1 cylinder on the compression stroke.

The magneto must be timed by first adjusting or checking the internal timing with the magneto off the engine. This is done by checking and adjusting the ignition points to open at the E-gap position. The chamfered tooth should line up (reference timing mark for the magneto) in the middle of the timing window. The magneto is set to fire the No. 1 cylinder. Remove the most accessible spark plug from the No. 1 cylinder. Pull the propeller through in the direction of rotation until the No. 1 piston is coming up on the compression stroke. This can be determined by holding a thumb over the spark plug hole until the compression air is felt. Set the engine crankshaft at the prescribed number of degrees ahead of true top dead center as specified in the applicable manufacturer’s instruction, usually using the timing marks on the engine. With the engine set at a prescribed number of degrees ahead of true top dead center on the compression stroke and with final movement of the engine stopped in the direction of normal rotation, the magneto can be installed on the engine. [Figure 4-46]

Figure 4-46. Timing marks aligned.

Figure 4-46. Timing marks aligned.

While holding the magneto drive in the firing position for the No. 1 cylinder as indicated by the alignment of the reference marks for the magneto, install the magneto drive into the engine drive. It should be installed in the middle of its slotted flange to allow for fine timing of the magneto to the engine. Attach a timing light to both magnetos. With the engine still in the firing position, the magnetos should be timed by moving them in the flange slots until the breaker points in the magneto just open. If the slots in the mounting flange of the magneto do not permit sufficient movement to effect breaker point opening for the No. 1 cylinder, move the magneto out of position far enough to permit turning the magneto drive shaft. Then, install the magneto in position again and repeat the previous check for point opening.

Install the magneto attaching nuts on the studs and tighten slightly. The nuts must not be tight enough to prevent the movement of the magneto assembly when the magneto mounting flange is tapped with a mallet. Reconnect the timing light to the magneto and breaker points. With the light and ignition switch turned on, rotate the magneto assembly first in the direction of rotation and then in the opposite direction. This is done to determine that the points just opened. After completing this adjustment, tighten the mounting nuts. Move the propeller one blade opposite the direction of rotation and then, while observing the timing light, move the propeller in the direction of rotation until the prescribed number of degrees ahead of top dead center is reached. Be sure that the lights for both sets of points come on points open, within the prescribed timing position.

Both right and left sets of breaker points should open at the same instant, proper magneto-to-engine timing exists, and all phases of magneto operation are synchronized. Some early engines had what was referred to as staggered timing where one magneto would fire at a different number of degrees before top dead center on the compression stroke. In this case, each magneto had to be timed separately.

In the following example, a timing light is used for timing the magneto to the engine. The timing light is designed in such a way that one of two lights come on when the points open. The timing light incorporates two lights. When connecting the timing light to the magneto, the leads should be connected so that the light on the right side of the box represents the breaker points on the right magneto, and the light on the left side represents the left magneto breaker points. The black lead or ground lead must be attached to the engine or an effective ground. When using the timing light to check a magneto in a complete ignition system installed on the aircraft, the ignition switch for the engine must be turned to both. Otherwise, the lights do not indicate breaker point opening.