March 2008 Issue
Why FADEC Struggles: Benefits Remain Elusive
Electronic ignition systems look promising on paper, but buyers are still balking. Two new technical/marketing approaches might prime the pump.
When famed researcher—and inventor of the electric starter motor—Charles Kettering discovered that no compound worked as well as tetraethyl lead to kick up the octane of gasoline, he couldn’t have guessed that nearly 100 years later, science would still be looking for something almost as good. That the search hasn’t born fruit is one reason—although not the only one—that we still fly behind magnetos, not the electronic ignitions that have been commonplace in cars for three decades. It’s not for lack of trying. Teledyne Continental has had a certified FADEC for piston engines for some eight years, homebuilders fly with various iterations of electronic ignitions and General Aviation Modifications’ intriguing PRISM system thus far exists only as a test article. And the tests confirm that these ignition systems can prevent detonation in high power engines burning lower octane unleaded aviation fuels. So what’s the problem?
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