There are many instruments on an aircraft that indicate the mechanical motion of a component, or even the aircraft itself. Some utilize the synchro remote-sensing and indicating systems described above. Other means for capturing and displaying mechanical movement information are also used. This section discusses some unique mechanical motion indicators and groups instruments by function. All give valuable feedback to the pilot on the condition of the aircraft in flight.
The tachometer, or tach, is an instrument that indicates the speed of the crankshaft of a reciprocating engine. It can be a direct- or remote-indicating instrument, the dial of which is calibrated to indicate revolutions per minutes (rpm). On reciprocating engines, the tach is used to monitor engine power and to ensure the engine is operated within certified limits.
Gas turbine engines also have tachometers. They are used to monitor the speed(s) of the compressor section(s) of the engine. Turbine engine tachometers are calibrated in percentage of rpm with 100 percent corresponding to optimum turbine speed. This allows similar operating procedures despite the varied actual engine rpm of different engines. [Figure 10-52]In addition to the engine tachometer, helicopters use a tachometer to indicator main rotor shaft rpm. It should also be noted that many reciprocating-engine tachometers also have built-in numeric drums that are geared to the rotational mechanism inside. These are hour meters that keep track of the time the engine is operated. There are two types of tachometer system in wide use today: mechanical and electrical.
Mechanical tachometer indicating systems are found on small, single-engine light aircraft in which a short distance exists between the engine and the instrument panel. They consist of an indicator connected to the engine by a flexible drive shaft. The drive shaft is geared into the engine so that when the engine turns, so does the shaft. The indicator contains a flyweight assembly coupled to a gear mechanism that drives a pointer. As the drive shaft rotates, centrifugal force acts on the flyweights and moves them to an angular position. This angular position varies with the rpm of the engine. The amount of movement of the flyweights is transmitted through the gear mechanism to the pointer. The pointer rotates to indicate this movement on the tachometer indicator, which is directly related to the rpm of the engine. [Figure 10-53]A more common variation of this type of mechanical tachometer uses a magnetic drag cup to move the pointer in the indicator. As the drive shaft turns, it rotates a permanent magnet in a close-tolerance aluminum cup. A shaft attached to the indicating point is attached to the exterior center of the cup. As the magnet is rotated by the engine flex drive cable, its magnetic field cuts through the conductor surrounding it, creating eddy currents in the aluminum cup. This current flow creates its own magnetic field, which interacts with the rotating magnet’s flux field. The result is that the cup tends to rotate, and with it, the indicating pointer. A calibrated restraining spring limits the cup’s rotation to the arc of motion of the pointer across the scale on the instrument face. [Figure 10-54]
It is not practical to use a mechanical linkage between the engine and the rpm indicator on aircraft with engines not mounted in the fuselage just forward of the instrument panel. Greater accuracy with lower maintenance is achieved through the use of electric tachometers. A wide variety of electric tachometer systems can be employed, so manufacturer’s instructions should be consulted for details of each specific tachometer system.A popular electric tachometer system makes use of a small AC generator mounted to a reciprocating engine’s gear case or the accessory drive section of a turbine engine. As the engine turns, so does the generator. The frequency output of the generator is directly proportional to the speed of the engine. It is connected via wires to a synchronous motor in the indicator that mirrors this output. A drag cup, or drag disk link, is used to drive the indicator as in a mechanical tachometer. [Figure 10-55] Two different types of generator units, distinguished by their type of mounting system, are shown in Figure 10-56.
The dual tachometer consists of two tachometer indicator units housed in a single case. The indicator pointers show simultaneously, on one or two scales, the rpm of two engines. A dual tachometer on a helicopter often shows the rpm of the engine and the rpm of the main rotor. A comparison of the voltages produced by the two tach generators of this type of helicopter indicator gives information concerning clutch slippage. A third indication showing this slippage is sometimes included in the helicopter tachometer. [Figure 10-57]
Some turbine engines use tachometer probes for rpm indication, rather than a tach generator system. They provide a great advantage in that there are no moving parts. They are sealed units that are mounted on a flange and protrude into the compressor section of the engine. A magnetic field is set up inside the probe that extends through pole pieces and out the end of the probe. A rotating gear wheel, which moves at the same speed as the engine compressor shaft, alters the magnetic field flux density as it moves past the pole pieces at close proximity. This generates voltage signals in coils inside the probe. The amplitude of the EMF signals vary directly with the speed of the engine.
The tachometer probe’s output signals need to be processed in a remotely located module. They must also be amplified to drive a servo motor type indicator in the cockpit. They may also be used as input for an automatic power control system or a flight data acquisition system. [Figure 10-58]
The synchroscope is an instrument that indicates whether two or more rotating devices, such as engines, are synchronized. Since synchroscopes compare rpm, they utilize the output from tachometer generators. The instrument consists of a small electric motor that receives electrical current from the generators of both engines. Current from the faster running engine controls the direction in which the synchroscope motor rotates.
If both engines are operating at exactly the same speed, the synchroscope motor does not operate. If one engine operates faster that the other, its tach generator signal causes the synchroscope motor to turn in a given direction. Should the speed of the other engine then become greater than that of the first engine, the signal from its tach generator causes the synchroscope motor to reverse itself and turn in the opposite direction. The pilot makes adjustments to steady the pointer so it does not move.
One use of synchroscope involve designating one of the engines as a master engine. The rpm of the other engine(s) is always compared to the rpm of this master engine. The dial face of the synchroscope indicator looks like Figure 10-59. “Slow” and “fast” represent the other engine’s rpm relative to the master engine, and the pilot makes adjustments accordingly.