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A Magneto is an electrical generator that uses permanent magnets to produce periodic pulses of alternating current.

Hand-cranked magneto generators were used to provide ringing current in early telephone systems.

Magnetos adapted to produce pulses of high voltage are used in the ignition systems of some gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to provide power to the spark plugs. Use of magnetos for ignition is limited mainly to engines where there is no low-voltage electrical system available, such as lawnmowers and chainsaws. Magnetos have traditionally been used in aviation piston engines even though a low-voltage electrical system is usually available, to keep the ignition system independent of the battery and charging system and to keep the engine running in the event of alternator or battery failure. For redundancy purposes, virtually all piston engine aircraft are fitted with two magneto systems, each supplying power to one of two spark plugs in each cylinder.

Magnetos were rarely used for power generation, although they were for a few specialised uses.

History

Production of electric current from a moving magnetic field was demonstrated by Faraday in 1831. The first machines to produce electric current from magnetism used permanent magnets; the dynamo machine, which used an electromagnet to produce the magnetic field, was developed later. The machine built by Hippolyte Pixii in 1832 used a rotating permanent magnet to induce alternating voltage in two fixed coils.