FADEC is a system consisting of a digital computer and ancillary components that control an aircraft’s engine and propeller. First used in turbine-powered aircraft, and referred to as full authority digital electronic control, these sophisticated control systems are increasingly being used in piston powered aircraft.
In a spark ignition reciprocating engine the FADEC uses speed, temperature, and pressure sensors to monitor the status of each cylinder. A digital computer calculates the ideal pulse for each injector and adjusts ignition timing as necessary to achieve optimal performance. In a compression ignition engine the FADEC operates similarly and performs all of the same functions, excluding those specifically related to the spark ignition process.
FADEC systems eliminate the need for magnetos, carburetor heat, mixture controls, and engine priming. A single throttle lever is characteristic of an aircraft equipped with a FADEC system. The pilot simply positions the throttle lever to a desired detent such as start, idle, cruise power, or max power, and the FADEC system adjusts the engine and propeller automatically for the mode selected. There is no need for the pilot to monitor or control the air/fuel mixture.
During aircraft starting, the FADEC primes the cylinders, adjusts the mixture, and positions the throttle based on engine temperature and ambient pressure. During cruise flight, the FADEC constantly monitors the engine and adjusts fuel flow, and ignition timing individually in each cylinder. This precise control of the combustion process often results in decreased fuel consumption and increased horsepower.
FADEC systems are considered an essential part of the engine and propeller control, and may be powered by the aircraft’s main electrical system. In many aircraft FADEC uses power from a separate generator connected to the engine. In either case, there must be a backup electrical source available because failure of a FADEC system could result in a complete loss of engine thrust. To prevent loss of thrust, two separate and identical digital channels are incorporated for redundancy, each channel capable of providing all engine and propeller functions without limitations.
Learn more about aircraft and their systems with A Pilot’s Guide to Aircraft and Their Systems by ASA. Pilot-oriented rather than mechanic-oriented, this guide to aircraft systems is designed specifically to help general aviation pilots understand how aircraft systems work so that they can better use them in flight.