Whether traveling through land, sea, or air, all vehicles require a reliable power source to operate; yet, the loss of power is never completely avoidable, no matter how well aircraft systems work. Given the fact that power keeps aircraft in flight, losing power while in air would cause the plane to fall out of the sky. In better cases, this would cause irreversible damage to the aircraft and its passengers; however, such an occurrence would most likely cause catastrophic and fatal results. Of course, air travel is incredibly safe due to constant improvements in technology, in tandem with strictly enforced standards and regulations regarding which aircraft are deemed airworthy. As such, most aircraft have multiple backup procedures for loss of power, with Ram Air Turbines (RATs) often being a last resort. That being said, RATs find use in a number of aerospace applications to this day, those of which we will explore in the following blog.
A RAT is a small airflow-driven engine that supplies emergency electrical or hydraulic power as needed by an aircraft. Most modern aircraft rely on more than one engine, and when one fails, the aircraft may still operate safely with the remaining power source. In fact, pilots may select to turn off one engine on twin engine jets for a number of reasons with no consequences to the safety of their flight. Furthermore, most modern larger aircraft generate the power needed to run all their systems with generators driven by ancillary gearboxes on the engines or via an auxiliary power unit (APU) while the engines are not running. As such, RATs are essentially a backup to the backup plan when there is a loss of power.
Given the infrequent demand to use RATs, they are typically stowed away behind closed panels during flight, and used only in the case of multiple engine failures. That being said, these turbines are a standard component of redundancy backup systems, using passing air flow to generate power. While in operation, RATs are situated behind panels in the fuselage which may be deployed to swing the turbine propeller into the airflow past the aircraft. In general, they can generate around 50 kW of power through the use of twin-bladed propellers or multi-bladed, ducted fans.
The RATs used in commercial aircraft like the Airbus A380 are large in size and may offer up to 70 kW in power; however, RATs have another popular function in aircraft, specifically in cropdusters. Slightly smaller models are used as power sources for ancillary equipment in crop dusters, offering around 500 watts to 5kW of power used to power chemical spray pumps. Depending on your aircraft model, the RAT you use will vary in size, design, and efficiency, so it is important to understand the exact needs of your aircraft before choosing the best back-up power source.
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