Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology is a prominent voice in the aviation space. These blogs are for informational purposes only and are meant to spark discussions within the aviation industry on a variety of topics.
At any given time, there are thousands of aircraft crisscrossing the skies. Ensuring that these airplanes all have reliable communications systems is an integral part of safe air travel. The people who manage these systems are trained aviation electronics technicians. In their training, they learn how to keep these systems in optimal working condition and ensure that they do not interfere with each other, or with the safe operation of the aircraft. This is a vital field that has been integral to advancing aviation technology since the beginning of the flight age.
Before aviation communications, pilots had only a map, a compass and dead reckoning skills to get them where they were trying to go. In circumstances where weather conditions prevented them from seeing the ground below, they were the only tools available to keep them on track.
One of the first developments that used electronics in aviation was clear radio voice communication. The first World War spurred an urgent need for communications from ground-to-air and from one aircraft to another.
In the 1920s, more civilian airplanes took to the sky. Planes that flew higher needed the ability to accomplish blind flight, which is flight where the ground is not visible. Navigational radios were developed soon after that. These used radio beacons to help pilots find their way along their routes. By the end of the 1920s, the first safe blind landing was accomplished through the use of instrument navigation paired with radio.
In the early decades of avionics, these systems increased in complexity and cost far more than the overall cost of the aircraft themselves. For instance, military aircraft with advanced weapons targeting, delicate monitoring systems and refined navigational equipment might have 80% of their total cost dedicated to these electronic systems. Today, the cost of these systems in relation to the aircraft as a whole is beginning to decline. This is because of great advances in digital technology, as well as a greater number of manufacturers making high-end gear. Today, new aircraft always comes with digital glass cockpit displays. Many owners of older planes are increasing their safety and precision by retrofitting their crafts with digital instruments to replace analog equipment.
By the end of the 1920s, aviation communications technology had allowed for the first completely radio-controlled blind landing. Radio navigation would use waypoints that broadcast two Morse code signals with specific ranges and patterns. Pilots could tune to the frequency of these broadcasts and fly in an orientation pattern as each signal got stronger. When the signals produced a blended tone at the highest volume, the aircraft was directly over the broadcast area. It was a delicate operation and needed a keen ear to pinpoint where the plane was located at times when visible confirmation was blocked by weather.
While early radios used low and medium frequency radio waves, these did not transmit well at night or in bad weather. High-frequency radio was developed to overcome this. It was also instrumental in the development of high-frequency radar.
World War II accelerated the development of aircraft communications and navigation systems. While communication radios were still very large, they were essential for safe and precise travel. Instruments that would allow blind landings were developed and in wide use by the end of the decade. The very high-frequency (VHF) omni-directional range (VOR) navigational network was developed. The VOR system, which is still in use today, consisted of thousands of land-based transmitter stations. These communicate with the radio receiving equipment on the airplane.
The 1940s decade also saw the creation of the first transistors, which paved the way for modern solid-state electronics.
By the 1960s, true solid-state electronic devices were showing up in airplanes in large numbers. Within a decade, professionals had coined the term "avionics," made up of the words "aviation" and "electronics," to refer to this ever more important field.
Aviation communications equipment got both smaller and more rugged. The space program increased the need for high quality communication and navigation equipment, further driving innovation.
Today, we use a wide range of electronics in navigation, communication, and entertainment onboard. Installing and maintaining these systems is a vital responsibility handled by trained aviation electronics technicians.
There is also a complete overhaul of the national airspace system (NAS) underway. Under a program called NextGen, greater air system capacity will be possible than ever before. Ultra-precise technology will allow for more efficient and effective air traffic management. The implementation and maintenance will require highly-trained aviation communication techs.
Avionics is the field that deals with the specialized electronic equipment in aircraft. It's a subset of electronics. The technicians who handle these important tasks to keep flight safe and comfortable must undergo a combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience in the lab.
As an avionics technician, you'd deal with a wide range of equipment and would learn how to deal with systems that include radios, cables, entertainment systems, autopilot, navigation systems and others.
In the classroom, students will learn about electronic theory, FAA regulations and learn about the proper use of basic tools and equipment. Hands-on study will include training in installation of a range of systems. Prospective technicians will learn how to troubleshoot systems and make repairs. They'll learn how to engage in vital activities like high-reliability soldering and wiring.
This is a field that allows curious individuals to learn about many different aspects of safe flight and aviation communication systems. Topics that are covered in an aviation electronics technology program include:
Courses in AC and DC electronics cover basic concepts like current, voltage, and resistance. You'll learn the various components that make up circuits and how each of those reacts in arrangements that include series, parallel and series-parallel arrangements.
Prospective technicians learn about concepts that include gates, flip/flops, number conversions, and counters. In the lab, you get to put their knowledge into practice engaging in hands-on tasks.
This is where future technicians learn the basics of this vital technology. Solid-state electronics are highly reliable and less prone to failure than the mechanical systems of the past. Aviation techs will be taught how to troubleshoot these instruments using common testing equipment and how to maintain them.
AETs will learn VHF, High Frequency (FH), and SatCom communication systems. You'll also learn about aviation systems and the layout of a cockpit display. Students also get to learn about applications that include satellite communications and in-flight entertainment systems.
Gyroscopes are devices that either measure or maintain an object's orientation. They are an integral part of many flight systems. Trainees will learn about gyroscopic systems, flight controls, and systems such as the pilot/static systems.
Here, you'll learn the theory behind these systems, as well as their practical uses, such as radar. You'll learn how these vital systems relate to safety up in the air.
One of the areas of aviation that has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years is unmanned aircraft, also known as drones. You'll learn how to operate and maintain a complete UAS. You'll also get knowledge of basic troubleshooting of ground control stations.
Spartan offers Associate of Applied Science degree programs at both our campuses and a diploma program at our Tulsa area location. Both programs include knowledge in a range of areas that include FAA regulations, electronic theory, and hands-on experience with a range of systems. In addition, AAS students spend time focusing on customer service, oral and written communication, diversity in the workplace, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
AET training can include a range of classroom experiences and hands-on learning. You might spend a morning interacting with Garmin G1000 Flat Screen Avionics Displays. Then, you'll work with working examples of navigation systems, autopilot systems, air traffic control transponders, and radar equipment.
Students spend time building and troubleshooting aerospace electronics to develop the skills they'd need in a real-world setting. They program and fly drones. They assemble and test radar systems. You might spend part of one day practicing high-reliability soldering, and the rest building wiring harnesses to integrate systems.
As more and more planes fill the skies, more and more robust technology is needed to keep these crafts and their passengers safe and comfortable. Aviation electronics technicians learn about these systems, how to install them, how to troubleshoot them, and how to maintain them.
Lighter, more compact, and more powerful devices are being deployed all the time. These increase situational awareness on the flight deck, keep guests entertained with in-flight music, movies, or Internet, and allow for safe and successful flight.
Learning how to make these systems work allows you to be an important part of a team. You'll use a range of skills and have opportunities to continually learn. These are systems that are required on all aircraft. While they will always change, they will likely always be present and be an integral part of aeronautics.
Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology offers an Associate of Applied Science program. This program includes knowledge in a range of areas that include FAA regulations, electronic theory, and hands-on experience with a range of systems. In addition, AAS students spend time focusing on customer service, oral and written communication, diversity in the workplace, and UAVs.
Spartan College offers programs geared toward career-oriented training in the aviation industry. Click here to learn more about our programs.
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