The Beginner’s Guide to Aircraft Switches

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Switches aren’t limited to consumer electronics. They are used in a variety of applications, including airplanes. Aircraft switches work like most other switches, but they are designed for airplanes, helicopters or other aircraft. What are aircraft switches exactly, and how do they work?

What Is a Switch?

A switch is simply a device that controls a circuit. While available in different types, they can all open and close a circuit. Open circuits are characterized by a break or disruption in a conductive path. Closed circuits, on the other hand, are characterized by a complete conductive path. Switches are simple devices that control a circuit.

The term “aircraft switch” refers to a switch that’s designed for use in aircraft. Airplanes and other types of aircraft are equipped with many switches. Each electrical system and control typically has one or more switches. Therefore, airplanes may contain thousands of switches.

How Aircraft Switches Work

Aircraft switches work by interrupting or completing a conductive path. Circuits are boards — either rigid or flex — that feature a conductive path. The conductive path may consist of conductive ink. With its conductive characteristics, electricity can flow through the ink.

Cockpit controls often leverage one or more switches. When pilots press a control button, the corresponding switch will open or close the circuit. Aircraft switches allow pilots to interact with control buttons. Nearly all electronic controls feature one or more switches.

Common Types of Aircraft Switches

All aircraft switches are designed to control a circuit. Nonetheless, you can find them in different types. One of the most common types of aircraft switches is toggle. Toggle aircraft switches receive their namesake from their ability to toggle on and off.

There are also push-button aircraft switches. Push-button aircraft switches feature a button that pilots can press to control the circuit. And there are rocker switches. Rocker switches have a “rocking” button consisting of a top part and a bottom part.

What About Pressure Switches?

In addition to traditional aircraft switches, there are pressure switches. They are both used in airplanes, but pressure switches aren’t the same as traditional aircraft switches.

Pressure switches are devices that control an electrical contact via pressure. They leverage pressurized fluid or gas to control an electrical contact. Traditional aircraft switches are devices that control a circuit. Unlike pressure switches, they don’t leverage pressurized fluid or gas. Traditional aircraft switches feature integrated buttons or other input mechanisms that, when engaged, will control the circuit.

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