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What Are Common Thermal Management Techniques Used For Avionics Cooling?

Aircraft are powerful vehicles with engines capable of creating enough thrust and propulsion for flight, and with fuel combustion serving as the most common method of generation still, many aircraft face issues with heat that must be properly managed to avoid damage. While aviation manufacturers continue to expand their endeavors to bring about more electrization for engines, there are still ways in which temperatures can cause issues despite removing the engine combustion process. In modern Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and military aircraft, a wide variety of advanced electronics and systems are required for successful operations. These devices utilize various circuits that route power, all of which generate excess heat that may spread into avionics and other assemblies. Because of this, manufacturers must implement proper cooling technology and methods to ensure that heat is efficiently removed for the health of avionics.

There are many ways in which heat can be controlled, and for avionics, these solutions often come in the form of heat sinks, forced air systems and fans, heat pipes, and more. Each solution will provide varying levels of cooling and capabilities, and implementation will generally come down to design limitations, space constrictions, thermal loads, etc. Additionally, each solution also comes with its own inherent advantages and disadvantages, making it useful to have a basic understanding of each.

For early aircraft and early UAV designs, natural and forced air convection is common as it is also the cheapest option. Air can easily be used for thermal control, only requiring a system to have vents, natural convection, or fans to guarantee an efficient flow where air takes on heat before exiting the assembly. To enhance heat transfer, many of these solutions also utilize heat sinks on heat producing devices. Despite atmospheric air being quite cool at the altitudes that in which most aircraft operate, air inherently cannot take on much heat before being limited by their thermal management capabilities. As a result, natural and forced air convection is considered  inefficient at tackling the thermal management required of more modern electronic assemblies.

The heat sinks within UAVs and other aircraft are typically radiant heat sink types, featuring metallic cold plates with cooling fins that present a large surface area that benefits thermal management when paired with forced air. Heat sinks are designed to have physical contact with the hot surface of a component, and thermal paste will be placed between the two to act as a mediator of transfer. As heat moves from the object, through the paste, and into the heat sink, heat can be stripped from electronics before being transferred into an airflow. Heat sinks will always be rated based on their abilities, and those with a lower °C/W value will be more efficient.

The last major type of cooling is through the use of liquid cooling, and these systems utilize a coolant that is run through a cold plate so that heat may be removed and transferred to a heat exchanger. Liquid cooling has the advantage of keeping cold plates at even temperatures, ensuring that thermal transfer is more effective as temperature spikes are avoided.

While each thermal management technique has its own advantages and disadvantages, the choice between all will generally come down to what is best for your aircraft, financial limitations, etc. Here at ASAP Global Supplies, we can help you secure all the various parts and components that you require for your operations, offering highly competitive prices and rapid lead times for your benefit. Take the time to explore our database as you see fit, and take advantage of our online RFQ forms to quickly and easily request quotes for your comparisons. Once we receive and review your request, you can expect a response within 15 minutes. Get started today and see why customers continuously rely on ASAP Global Supplies time and time again.


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