Electromagnetic pulses are a staple in sci-fi, and they're basically the writers' hand-waving of "deletes technology" weapons. This question asks about whether or not GA motors would survive such a thing, and the answer seems to be "a big enough EMP will still cook it, but it'll take more to kill the mags than it would the GPS and radio." A far more likely scenario of concern, however, is solar storms.

The Carrington Event was a titanic Coronal Mass Ejection(CME) that damaged telegraph networks, ionized the atmosphere powerfully enough to produce dramatic aurorae, and is viewed as a possible global catastrophe scenario given the broad dependence on large electrical power grids. The event carried on long enough that a 7-line conversation took place between Boston and Portland after both stations had disconnected their power supplies.

Unlike an EMP, which delivers one powerful shock to the system, solar storms produce prolonged periods of induced current in exposed hardware.

Obviously radios and sensitive electronics are hosed, and possible permanently lost. But what are the likely effects on aircraft engines?

Carrington events are legitimate considerations for electrical system planners and disaster management professionals, but I'm wondering if they're of concern for the aviation sector?

For a specific case, The Long Dark's story begins with a De Havilland Beaver becoming uncontrollable due to a Carrington Event (while being operated in hilariously questionable weather, to boot). The DHC-2 comes in radial and turboprop versions, however, so I'm curious if one or the other of these propulsion schema would be preferable to someone concerned about solar storms?


1 Answer 1


I don't know what would make it "uncontrollable" since the flight controls are operated by cable circuits, like a clothes line you hang your washing on, more or less.

It would come down to what the effect would be on the 1920s vintage electrical parts in the engine magnetos, like coils, points, capacitors etc. So if the event could effect those sorts of components, say inducing fields in the windings of the magneto coil, the engine might quit or might start to misfire so badly it achieves the same result. If electrical transformers are affected by these things, then it's possible a magneto would be as well.

If it was a Turbo Beaver, its PT6-20 turboprop had a hydromechanical fuel controller, so the engine would keep running once started, even if the electronics and electrical instrumentation were fried, because the fuel control is based on mechanical inputs and mechanical air pressure sensing devices.

So if I had to chose which one would be most likely to be impervious to an electromagnetic event, it would be the Turboprop version. Even with newer 80s vintage TP engines that are electronically trimmed, if the electronics goes out it just rolls back to a mechanical fuel schedule that runs less efficiently.

On the other hand, a FADEC turboprop, one of the more recent ones from the 90s on where fuel control is completely electronics dependent, would probably have a problem however.


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