Voltage Drop in Aircraft Wire and Cable – Powerplant Electrical Systems

in Engine Ignition and Electrical Systems

The voltage drop in the main power cables from the aircraft generation source or the battery to the bus should not exceed 2 percent of the regulated voltage when the generator is carrying rated current or the battery is being discharged at a 5-minute rate. The 5-minute rate in this case means that the battery should last a minimum of 5 minutes in an emergency, with all battery operated equipment running. Figure 4-78 shows the recommended maximum voltage drop in the load circuits between the bus and the utilization equipment.

Figure 4-78. Recommended voltage drop in load circuits.

Figure 4-78. Recommended voltage drop in load circuits.

The resistance of the current return path through the aircraft structure is always considered negligible. However, this is based on the assumption that adequate bonding of the structure or a special electric current return path has been provided that is capable of carrying the required electric current with a negligible voltage drop. A resistance measurement of 0.005 ohms from ground point of the generator or battery to ground terminal of any electrical device is considered satisfactory.


Another satisfactory method of determining circuit resistance is to check the voltage drop across the circuit. If the voltage drop does not exceed the limit established by the aircraft or product manufacturer, the resistance value for the circuit is considered satisfactory. When using the voltage drop method of checking a circuit, the input voltage must be maintained at a constant value.

Figure 4-79. Conductor graph—continuous flow.

Figure 4-79. Conductor graph—continuous flow. [Click image to enlarge]

The graph in Figure 4-79 applies to copper conductors carrying direct current. To select the correct size of conductor, two major requirements must be met. First, the size must be sufficient to prevent an excessive voltage drop while carrying the required current over the required distance. Second, the size must be sufficient to prevent overheating of the cable while carrying the required current. The graphs in Figures 4-79 and 4-80 can simplify these determinations. To use this graph to select the proper size of conductor, the following must be known:

  1. The conductor length in feet
  2. The number of amperes of current to be carried
  3. The amount of voltage drop permitted
  4. Whether the current to be carried is intermittent or continuous
  5. The estimated or measured temperature of the conductor
  6. Whether the wire to be installed is in a conduit or in a bundle
  7. Whether it is a single conductor in free air

Figure 4-80. Conductor graph—intermittent flow.

Figure 4-80. Conductor graph—intermittent flow. [Click image to enlarge]

Suppose that you want to install a 50-foot conductor from the aircraft bus to the equipment in a 28-volt system. For this length, a 1-volt drop is permissible for continuous operation with a conductor temperature of 20 ºC or less. By referring to the chart in Figure 4-79, the maximum number of feet a conductor may be run carrying a specified current with a 1-volt drop can be determined. In this example, the number 50 is selected.

Assuming the current required by the equipment is 20 amperes, the line indicating the value of 20 amperes should be selected from the diagonal lines. Follow this diagonal line downward until it intersects the horizontal line number 50. From this point, drop straight down to the bottom of the graph to find that a conductor between size No. 8 and No. 10 is required to prevent a greater drop than 1 volt. Since the indicated value is between two numbers, the larger size, No. 8, should be selected. This is the smallest size that should be used to avoid an excessive voltage drop.

If the installation is for equipment having only an intermittent (maximum 2 minutes) requirement for power, the graph in Figure 4-80 is used in the same manner.

Conductor Insulation

Two fundamental properties of insulation materials (e.g., rubber, glass, asbestos, and plastic) are insulation resistance and dielectric strength. These are entirely different and distinct properties.

Insulation resistance is the resistance to current leakage through and over the surface of insulation materials. Insulation resistance can be measured with a megger without damaging the insulation. This serves as a useful guide in determining the general condition of insulation. However, the data obtained in this manner may not give a true picture of the condition of the insulation. Clean, dry insulation having cracks or other faults may show a high value of insulation resistance but would not be suitable for use.

Dielectric strength is the ability of the insulator to withstand potential difference and is usually expressed in terms of the voltage at which the insulation fails due to electrostatic stress. Maximum dielectric strength values can be measured by raising the voltage of a test sample until the insulation breaks down.

Because of the expense of insulation, its stiffening effect, and the great variety of physical and electrical conditions under which the conductors are operated, only the necessary minimum insulation is applied for any particular type of cable designed to do a specific job.

The type of conductor insulation material varies with the type of installation. Rubber, silk, and paper insulation are no longer used extensively in aircraft systems. More common today are such materials as vinyl, cotton, nylon, Teflon, and Rockbestos.