When aircraft are operating in extreme altitudes exceeding 30,000 feet, the surrounding atmosphere can easily reach temperatures well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. As such temperatures are far from comfortable or safe for travel, many aircraft will utilize various heating systems in order to maintain optimal environmental temperatures. With a variety of aircraft types differing in their construction, pressurization, and more, multiple aircraft heating systems may be present across models, each with their unique operations and benefits.
Bleed air systems commonly serve pressurized aircraft, and such systems use bleed air that is mixed together with cold air from the air cycle machine expansion turbine in order to produce warmth for heating the cabin. If a turbine-powered aircraft does not feature air cycle systems, bleed air may still be used to heat the cabin with the use of ducting, control valves, and other components. While bleed air is highly useful for the comfort of passengers, some of the heated air is also routed for de-icing, pressurization, and other functions that serve for safe and efficient flight operations.
While less common, some aircraft will utilize electric heating systems for their temperature control. By having electricity flow through an heating element, heat can be produced and then transferred into the cabin with the use of a fan. With such aircraft heaters, floor and sidewall components may also be present in order to radiate more heat within the aircraft. As electrical aircraft heating systems require power to be drawn from the generator for their operation, they are less common as many operators feel there are more important uses for the electricity. During ground operations, however, electric heating systems may be used without taxing the generator too much.
For single-engine light aircraft, exhaust shroud heaters are common. With such an aircraft heater system, ambient air is pushed into a metal shroud which is connected to the engine exhaust system. As exhaust heat passes through the engine, it warms the ambient air. As the air is warmed, it is passed through a firewall heater and into the cabin for use. With this method of operation, exhaust shroud heaters can provide sufficient warmth without expending engine power or electricity. While this type of heating can be very beneficial to aircraft, it also can be dangerous in the instance of a cracked exhaust manifold as carbon monoxide may quickly enter the cabin. As such, aircraft heaters using exhaust for warmth are subject to very thorough and strict inspections.
For small to medium sized aircraft, the combustion heater serves as a heat source separate from the aircraft engine. As a standalone device possibly featuring electronic ignition and temperature control switches, such aircraft heating systems use fuel from the main fuel system and create heat in a similar fashion to exhaust shroud heaters. With combustion of fuel and air within a sealed inner chamber, exhaust is sent outwards to heat ambient air through convection. Unlike exhaust shroud heaters, combustion heaters exhibit a much lower chance for carbon monoxide poisoning due to the fact that pressure is lower than the outside ventilation air.
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