Everyone knows that APUs need love too…..
For Valentine’s Day, we want to look at an underdog of turbomachinery. A machine that is often overlooked, and not really in the limelight the way some of its larger cousins are, nor is it given the trendy position of being the “technology of the future” like its smaller cousins. Without this technology, airplanes would be entirely reliant on external power plants to maintain an electric power supply on the ground, and to start the main engines. So, what is this underappreciated machine?
If you haven’t been able to guess it, our Valentine this year is the aircraft auxiliary power unit, or APU for short. Although these are not present on all aircraft, they are typically used in larger airplanes such as commercial airliners. This allows aircraft to rely less on ground services when the main engines are not running. As a result, less equipment, manpower, and time are required to keep the plane in standby mode, and the aircraft can also service airports with less available resources in remote locations.
Where this Underdog Started
The aircraft auxiliary power unit can be traced back to the First World War, as they were used to provide electric power onboard airships and zeppelins. In the Second World War, American bombers and cargo aircraft had these systems as well. APUs were small piston engines, as the gas turbine had yet to be developed. These engines were typically V-twin or flat configuration engines, similar to what you might find on a motorcycle, and they were called putt-putts. These two-stroke engines usually put out less than 10-horsepower, but that was all that was required to provide DC power during low-level flight.