The temperature of numerous items must be known for an aircraft to be operated properly. Engine oil, carburetor mixture, inlet air, free air, engine cylinder heads, heater ducts, and exhaust gas temperature of turbine engines are all items requiring temperature monitoring. Many other temperatures must also be known. Different types of thermometers are used to collect and present temperature information.
Non-Electric Temperature Indicators
The physical characteristics of most materials change when exposed to changes in temperature. The changes are consistent, such as the expansion or contraction of solids, liquids, and gases. The coefficient of expansion of different materials varies and it is unique to each material. Most everyone is familiar with the liquid mercury thermometer. As the temperature of the mercury increases, it expands up a narrow passage that has a graduated scale upon it to read the temperature associated with that expansion. The mercury thermometer has no application in aviation.
A bimetallic thermometer is very useful in aviation. The temperature sensing element of a bimetallic thermometer is made of two dissimilar metals strips bonded together. Each metal expands and contracts at a different rate when temperature changes. One end of the bimetallic strip is fixed, the other end is coiled. A pointer is attached to the coiled end which is set in the instrument housing. When the bimetallic strip is heated, the two metals expand. Since their expansion rates differ and they are attached to each other, the effect is that the coiled end tries to uncoil as the one metal expands faster than the other. This moves the pointer across the dial face of the instrument. When the temperature drops, the metals contract at different rates, which tends to tighten the coil and move the pointer in the opposite direction.
Direct reading bimetallic temperature gauges are often used in light aircraft to measure free air temperature or outside air temperature (OAT). In this application, a collecting probe protrudes through the windshield of the aircraft to be exposed to the atmospheric air. The coiled end of the bimetallic strip in the instrument head is just inside the windshield where it can be read by the pilot. [Figures 10-66 and 10-67]
A bourdon tube is also used as a direct reading non-electric temperature gauge in simple, light aircraft. By calibrating the dial face of a bourdon tube gauge with a temperature scale, it can indicate temperature. The basis for operation is the consistent expansion of the vapor produced by a volatile liquid in an enclosed area. This vapor pressure changes directly with temperature. By filling a sensing bulb with such a volatile liquid and connecting it to a bourdon tube, the tube causes an indication of the rising and falling vapor pressure due to temperature change. Calibration of the dial face in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, rather than psi, provides a temperature reading. In this type of gauge, the sensing bulb is placed in the area needing to have temperature measured. A long capillary tube connects the bulb to the bourdon tube in the instrument housing. The narrow diameter of the capillary tube ensures that the volatile liquid is lightweight and stays primarily in the sensor bulb. Oil temperature is sometimes measured this way.
Electrical Temperature Measuring Indication
The use of electricity in measuring temperature is very common in aviation. The following measuring and indication systems can be found on many types of aircraft. Certain temperature ranges are more suitably measured by one or another type of system.
Electrical Resistance Thermometer
The principle parts of the electrical resistance thermometer are the indicating instrument, the temperature-sensitive element (or bulb), and the connecting wires and plug connectors. Electrical resistance thermometers are used widely in many types of aircraft to measure carburetor air, oil, free air temperatures, and more. They are used to measure low and medium temperatures in the –70 °C to 150 °C range.
For most metals, electrical resistance changes as the temperature of the metal changes. This is the principle upon which a resistance thermometer operates. Typically, the electrical resistance of a metal increases as the temperature rises. Various alloys have a high temperature-resistance coefficient, meaning their resistance varies significantly with temperature. This can make them suitable for use in temperature sensing devices. The metal resistor is subjected to the fluid or area in which temperature needs to be measured. It is connected by wires to a resistance measuring device inside the cockpit indicator. The instrument dial is calibrated in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius as desired rather than in ohms. As the temperature to be measured changes, the resistance of the metal changes and the resistance measuring indicator shows to what extent.
A typical electrical resistance thermometer looks like any other temperature gauge. Indicators are available in dual form for use in multiengine aircraft. Most indicators are self-compensating for changes in cockpit temperature. The heat-sensitive resistor is manufactured so that it has a definite resistance for each temperature value within its working range. The temperature-sensitive resistor element is a length or winding made of a nickel/manganese wire or other suitable alloy in an insulating material. The resistor is protected by a closed-end metal tube attached to a threaded plug with a hexagonal head. [Figure10-68] The two ends of the winding are brazed, or welded, to an electrical receptacle designed to receive the prongs of the connector plug.
The indicator contains a resistance-measuring instrument. Sometimes it uses a modified form of the Wheatstonebridge circuit. The Wheatstone-bridge meter operates on the principle of balancing one unknown resistor against other known resistances. A simplified form of a Wheatstonebridge circuit is shown in Figure 10-69. Three equal values of resistance [Figure 10-69A, B, and C] are connected into a diamond shaped bridge circuit. A resistor with an unknown value [Figure 10-69D] is also part of the circuit. The unknown resistance represents the resistance of the temperature bulb of the electrical resistance thermometer system. A galvanometer is attached across the circuit at points X and Y.
When the temperature causes the resistance of the bulb to equal that of the other resistances, no potential difference exists between points X and Y in the circuit. Therefore, no current flows in the galvanometer leg of the circuit. If the temperature of the bulb changes, its resistance also changes, and the bridge becomes unbalanced, causing current to flow through the galvanometer in one direction or the other. The galvanometer pointer is actually the temperature gauge pointer. As it moves against the dial face calibrated in degrees, it indicates temperature. Many indicators are provided with a zero adjustment screw on the face of the instrument. This adjusts the zeroing spring tension of the pointer when the bridge is at the balance point (the position at which the bridge circuit is balanced and no current flows through the meter).
Ratiometer Electrical Resistance Thermometers
Another way of indicating temperature when employing an electric resistance thermometer is by using a ratiometer. The Wheatstone-bridge indicator is subject to errors from line voltage fluctuation. The ratiometer is more stable and can deliver higher accuracy. As its name suggests, the ratiometer electrical resistance thermometer measures a ratio of current flows.
The resistance bulb sensing portion of the ratiometer electric resistance thermometer is essentially the same as described above. The circuit contains a variable resistance and a fixed resistance to provide the indication. It contains two branches for current flow. Each has a coil mounted on either side of the pointer assembly that is mounted within the magnetic field of a large permanent magnet. Varying current flow through the coils causes different magnetic fields to form, which react with the larger magnetic field of the permanent magnet. This interaction rotates the pointer against the dial face that is calibrated in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, giving a temperature indication. [Figure 10-70]
The magnetic pole ends of the permanent magnet are closer at the top than they are at the bottom. This causes the magnetic field lines of flux between the poles to be more concentrated at the top. As the two coils produce their magnetic fields, the stronger field interacts and pivots downward into the weaker, less concentrated part of the permanent magnet field, while the weaker coil magnetic field shifts upward toward the more concentrated flux field of the large magnet. This provides a balancing effect that changes but stays in balance as the coil field strengths vary with temperature and the resultant current flowing through the coils.
For example, if the resistance of the temperature bulb is equal to the value of the fixed resistance (R), equal values of current flow through the coils. The torques, caused by the magnetic field each coil creates, are the same and cancel any movement in the larger magnetic field. The indicator pointer will be in the vertical position. If the bulb temperature increases, its resistance also increases. This causes the current flow through coil A circuit branch to increase. This creates a stronger magnetic field at coil A than at coil B. Consequently, the torque on coil A increases, and it is pulled downward into the weaker part of the large magnetic field. At the same time, less current flows through the sensor bulb resistor and coil B, causing coil B to form a weaker magnetic field that is pulled upward into the stronger flux area of the permanent magnet’s magnetic field. The pointer stops rotating when the fields reach a new balance point that is directly related to the resistance in the sensing bulb. The opposite of this action would take place if the temperature of the heat-sensitive bulb should decrease.
Ratiometer temperature measuring systems are used to measure engine oil, outside air, carburetor air, and other temperatures in many types of aircraft. They are especially in demand to measure temperature conditions where accuracy is important, or large variations of supply voltages are encountered.