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What is an Aircraft Stall Warning System?

For most fixed-wing aircraft, the lift that keeps them in the sky is a result of their forward airspeed and manipulation of airflow through wings and other flight structures. While the lift that aircraft are able to produce is ample for standard flight operations, this lift can easily be lost if the pilot does not maintain a safe attitude. For example, traveling at too high of an angle of attack can easily lead to a loss of lift, resulting in a hazardous situation where the aircraft may begin to lose altitude and require careful but quick pilot intervention. Luckily, pilots are well-trained on how to handle stalling as they work to get their license, and most aircraft feature what are known as stall warning systems that will provide an audio and/or visual queue to the pilot when a stall is impending. As these systems are crucial for safety, pilots should ensure that they are familiar with the common types of stall warning systems that they may have to rely on.

One of the most popular forms of aircraft stall warning system is the vane-type warning sensor, that of which is an electromechanical system that operates using the power of the aircraft. These aircraft sensors are placed on a wing of the aircraft, featuring a vane that is pushed up as a result of relative airflow changes when a critical angle of attack is reached. The movement of the vane causes a switch to be actuated, leading to the activation of a light and/or horn situated in the cockpit of an aircraft. In some instances, a stick shaker may also be added alongside the stall warning vane assembly to provide more indication.

Aside from the vane-type aircraft stall warning system, the reed-type sensor is another common option that comes in the form of a small oval slit placed on the leading edge of a wing. Reed sensors do not require any power for their operation, making them a popular choice for smaller, private aircraft like Cessnas. Nevertheless, some types can utilize electricity to operate on a circuit, and both powered and unpowered variations operate similarly to vane-type sensors in the fact that they respond to relative wind changes while the aircraft is in a high angle of attack.

Rather than causing a switch to actuate, however, reed-type sensors rely on a low-pressure area that internally forms in the device while in a high angle of attack, resulting in air traveling up the tubing until it reaches a reed placed in the aircraft cockpit. When this happens, the mounted reed will begin to vibrate with an audible noise that warns the pilot. If the sensor is electrically powered, then the pressure will cause a switch to close, activating an electrical circuit to make the pilot aware of the stall. While reed-type sensors have the chance of becoming clogged as a result of their functionality through air pressure, they are often much lighter and cheaper as compared to their vane-type counterparts.

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