Hydraulic Systems: Actuators and Heat Exchangers

Hydraulic systems are common on a number of aircraft, allowing for the properties of compressed fluids to be harnessed for the means of creating a source of mechanical force. In order to do this, hydraulic systems rely on a number of assembly parts that range from hydraulic pumps that pressurize fluids to the actuators that utilize their force. 

As a fluid is compressed within an enclosed space through the use of hydraulic pumps and other devices, the pressure that is transmitted through any point of the fluid will cause an equal change everywhere. As forces can be equally transmitted regardless of the shape of the container, no loss is faced. Once force is created, it is harnessed by an actuating cylinder that serves to transform fluid pressure into mechanical force. This means that the actuator may use force to impart linear motion onto a movable object or even rotate depending on the actuator design.

Most actuating cylinders will come in the form of a cylinder housing that is attached to one or more pistons or piston rods, and various seals may be used to contain all fluids. For fluids to enter and exit the cylinder, one or more ports may be situated on a polished bore where the piston operates. As the hydraulic system functions, the piston will move back and forth within the cylinder bore while an attached piston rod moves in and out of the cylinder housing.

Based on the application in question and its needs, the most common actuator options are linear and rotary types. With a linear actuator, either a single- or double-action variation may be used, the difference being whether there is one or two ports. With a single-action actuating cylinder, fluids will enter a port on the left of the cylinder before forcing the assembly to the right. This causes the compression of a spring, and the cylinder will be forced back to its resting position once the force of the spring surpasses that of the fluids. Double-action cylinders are somewhat similar, differing in the fact that fluid pressure can be sent into the cylinder from the left or right side based on what is needed. With rotary cylinders, on the other hand, fluid pressure can be used to create rotary actuation, and such devices feature arc lengths that range from 180 to 720 degrees.

 As hydraulic fluids are transferred through hydraulic pumps, pressurized, and more, they will collect heat over time. As increases in temperature can eventually lead to decreased performance and the risk of assembly damage, it is important that heat exchanger equipment is used to cool fluids. Heat exchangers are typically situated within the fuel tanks of aircraft, and they transfer heat from hydraulic fluids to stored fuel to maintain a specific level of cooling.

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