Mag Amp Circuit Module

Technical Information

Catalogue No: C1117
Category: Unknown
Object Type: Sensor/Transducer
Object Name: Mag Amp Circuit Module
Part No: SA-500-EA1
Serial No: 278/64
Manufacturer: Unknown
Division: Unknown
Platform(s): BAC 1-11  VC10 
Year of Manufacture: circa 1964
Width (mm):
Height (mm):
Depth (mm):
Weight (g):
Location: Archive Object Store

Ser. No. 278/64
Ref No 6TK4543031
EBL-R-Feb 54[?]


These circuit modules from the VC-10 computer are typical of construction techniques of the early 1960’s to early 1970’s. The technique of building up electronic and electro-mechanical units in plug-in card modules was a feature of the Bendix PB-20 system Autopilot upon which the Elliott system was based. A number of these cards and modules are common to a range of boxes. However Elliotts also designed many of their own cards and overall the Autopilot has some 25 different types. 


The magnetic amplifier (generally known as the "mag amp") is an electromagnetic device for amplifying electrical signals. The magnetic amplifier was invented early in the 20th century, and was used as an alternative to vacuum tube amplifiers where robustness and high current capacity were required. World War II Germany perfected this type of amplifier, and it was used for instance in the V-2 Rocket. The magnetic amplifier has now been largely superseded by the transistor-based amplifier, except in a few safety critical, high reliability or extremely demanding applications. Essentially the mag amp is a saturable reactor. It makes use of magnetic saturation of the core, a non-linear property of a certain class of transformer cores. For controlled saturation characteristics the magnetic amplifier employs core materials that have been designed to have a specific B-H curve shape that is highly rectangular.

The typical magnetic amplifier consists of two physically separate but similar transformer magnetic cores, each of which has two windings - a control winding and an AC winding. A small DC current from a low impedance source is fed into the series-connected control windings. An AC voltage is fed into one AC winding, with the other AC winding connected to the load. The AC windings may be connected either in series or in parallel, the configurations resulting in different types of mag amps. The amount of control current fed into the control winding sets the point in the AC winding waveform at which either core will saturate. In saturation, the AC winding on the saturated core will go from a high impedance state ("off") into a very low impedance state ("on") - that is, the control current controls at which voltage the mag amp switches "on".

A relatively small DC current on the control winding is able to control or switch large AC currents on the AC windings; this results in current amplification. Many such amplifiers were used in Elliott’s Autostabiliser for the Lightning and the Borehamwood site was generally regarded as a major source of knowledge on their application. Dr. E.H. Frost-Smith at Borehamwood was widely regarded as the UK ‘s leading expert on Magnetic Amplifiers.

From the early days of the company it had been hoped to enter the civil aircraft flight control field, in order to reduce dependence on military projects. The late 1950s was a time of significant change in the automatic flight control field. Elliott made a major contribution to this evolution by the design and development of actuation systems which integrated the electronic control input with the hydraulics of the main flying control power actuator.

The opportunity to take this step came in the late 1950’s with the planning of the Vickers 'VC 10' for which Elliott Brothers secured an order to provide a complete automatic flight control system. This led to considerable shared responsibility with the airframe designs of the Vickers VC 10, where the main control surfaces were split into several separate units. From the outset, the 'VC 10' system was planned to make provision for fully automatic landing of the aircraft. For certification ever to be possible an extremely high standard of reliability was essential, and even in the case of failure of the equipment it was a requirement that the aircraft must not be subjected to violent manoeuvres. After a detailed study of possible alternatives, the solution chosen was to duplicate the whole of the major system, one half to be operative while the other was to be 'standing by', with a changeover mechanism of the utmost reliability to permit instant switching from one to another. By 1960 the basic development was substantially complete and the requirements for automatic landing were being explored in detail with full 'autoland' capability available from January 1963. Successful development of the 'VC 10' system resulted in the opportunity to supply broadly similar equipment for the British Aircraft Corporation 'BAC 111', which has been produced in substantial numbers. The automatic flight control system of the Standard and Super VC10 was designed to be capable of development to full blind landing. To meet this requirement the system had to be capable of failure survival and this includes associated services such as power supplies and flying controls. The method of autopilot failure survival chosen was to provide two monitored systems which are fail soft, i.e. there is negligible aircraft disturbance after a failure. Only one autopilot is used to fly the aircraft, and the two systems, including power supplies, are completely independent. Each autopilot has a comparison monitor which detects faults and, in flight, will disconnect the system if these faults are likely to lead to dangerous conditions. For autoflare the system provides for automatic changeover to the second monitored autopilot system, in the event of fault in the first. Under these conditions the second autopilot is primed and ready to take over. If for any reason the monitoring system fails to prevent an autopilot runaway, the control movement is limited to a safe amount by the yielding of a torque-limiting spring. Many of the needed components were already present in the autopilot fit on the Standard VC10s, to achieve the autoland capacity the system on the Super received some additional items. The system, supplied by Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd, was based largely on components of the well-proved Bendix PB-20 autopilot, made under licence by Elliott, and interchangeable with American built components as installed in Boeing 707s. However, the system as a whole i.e., the dual autopilot concept was novel, and designed entirely by Elliott.           

A comprehensive description of the VC10 systems will be found at this VC10 website.

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Related Items: