What makes up a hydraulic system and how does it work?

Before we discuss the components of an aircraft hydraulic system or any hydraulic system for that matter, let's first give a simple overview of how they work. The function of a hydraulic system is based on the physics of Pascal’s Law, a French mathematician, physicist, inventor and writer. This law states that pressure applied to liquid within an enclosed system will cause equal pressure to be distributed everywhere else within that system. This distribution of pressure puts an actuator in motion that in turn directly creates a desired movement to a designated controlled service or other device of an aircraft. Hydraulic systems are used in smaller aircraft to operate retractable landing gear, breaks and constant-speed propellers. Larger aircraft utilize hydraulic systems to power flight controls, thrust reversers, wing flaps, spoilers and flight control services.

At the heart of a hydraulic system is the hydraulic powerpack. This component is a hydraulic system’s primary energy source and includes a motor, hydraulic pump, oil reservoir, pressure relief valve, pressure indicator, filters, fluid level indicator and air breather. Other sub-components that make up a hydraulic system are the actuator, fixed and flexible hoses, direction control valve  and various other control valves. There are three types of energy sources/motors that can be used to power a hydraulic system: an internal combustion engine (for mobile applications), a DC motor powered by DC batteries (predominantly used on ships), and a 3-phase AC motor (for industrial application).

Hydraulic systems work on the principle that a liquid can not be compressed, rather when force is applied, it builds pressure. The liquid in a hydraulic system is oil. Oil is stored in the reservoir, then a motor powers the hydraulic pump which then moves the oil through the system creating pressure. Once oil is in the system and pressure is created, valves are used to control the flow and relieve excessive pressure when needed. Lastly, the hydraulic cylinder converts the hydraulic energy into mechanical energy.

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