Belite Aircraft of Wichita, Kansas, announced the development of a 6 gram digital chip and probe combination sensor designed to detect liquid water in an aircraft fuel system.
Jim Wiebe, president and CEO of Belite Aircraft, introduced the product at Sun n Fun 2011. The circuit chip, with a tiny probe attached, is poised to revolutionize the safety factor of flight by setting off an audio or visual alarm in the cockpit if the presence of liquid water is detected in the fuel system in-line to the cylinders while the engine is operating.
"We were designing instrumentation for our product line, and I realized that there was a really weird characteristic with some of the circuitry that I was using where I could detect water in fuel in a fuel tank," Wiebe said. "It was just an oddity until someone asked me about fuel probes, and I realized that the technology could be extremely useful." Though the probe will not detect water dissolved in ethanol, when the water precipitates out of the ethanol as fuel temperature drops, such as when an aircraft sits out on a ramp overnight, it can easily be detected by the new electronic probe. Wiebe is also open to experimenting with the probe detecting water in diesel fuel, as well as in mogas and avgas.
"You could screw this into a fitting near the sump in a fuel tank, or redesign the fuel tank to have this sensor at the bottom of the tank, if you were an OEM," Wiebe said. "Alternatively, it is capable of being placed into the fuel lines. Ideally we'd like to see one of our OEM partners design a system whereby the detection of water in the line triggers an auto-switching system that selects another fuel tank and warns the pilot at the same time, thereby preventing the water from ever getting to the engine and causing an engine-out situation."
Wiebe has made provisions for the new sensor in his own instrumentation package. "There is a receptacle on the new Belite fuel-gauge system that can receive information from this probe," he said, though he is quick to admit that testing of the probe has not yet been completed. "We expect to be able to complete the testing and research on its effectiveness, as well as have a marketable product, with competitive pricing, by the EAA AirVenture show this summer."
The probe and its technology is currently being co-developed with several Light Sport and Experimental kit OEM partners, Wiebe said. However, Belite intends to market the probe as an aftermarket part for existing kit airplanes later this year.