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The compressor is the section of the engine that produces an increase in air pressure. It is made up of rotating and stationary vane assemblies. The first stage compressor rotor blades accelerate the air rearward into the first stage vane assemblies. The first stage vane assemblies slow the air down and direct it into the second stage compressor rotor blades. The second stage compressor rotor blades accelerate the air rearward into the second stage vane assemblies, and so on through the compressor rotor blades and vanes until air enters the diffuser section. The highest total air velocity is at the inlet of the diffuser. As the air passes rearward through the diffuser, the velocity of the air decreases and the static pressure increases. The highest static pressure is at the diffuser outlet.

The compressor rotor may be thought of as an air pump. The volume of air pumped by the compressor rotor is basically proportional to the rotor rpm. However, air density, the weight of a given volume of air, also varies this proportional relationship. The weight per unit volume of air is affected by temperature, compressor air inlet pressure, humidity, and ram air pressure*. If compressor air inlet temperature is increased, air density is reduced. If compressor air inlet pressure is increased, air density is increased. If humidity increases, air density is decreased. Humidity, by comparison with temperature, and pressure changes, has a very small effect on density. With increased forward speed, ram air pressure increases and air temperature and pressure increase.

*ram air pressure - free stream air pressure provided by the forward motion of the engine.

The following is an example of how air density affects compressor efficiency of the T62 gas turbine. At 100 percent N1 rpm, the compressor rotor pumps approximately 40.9 cubic feet of air per second. At standard day static sea level conditions, 59 F outside air temperature and 29.92" Hg barometric pressure, with 0 percent relative humidity and 0 ram air, air density is .07651 pound per cubic foot. Under these conditions, 40.9 cubic feet per second times .07651 pound per cubic feet equals approximately 3.13 pounds per second air flow through the engine. If the air density at the compressor inlet is less than on a standard day, the weight of air flow per second through the engine is less than 3.13 pounds per second. If N1 is less than 100 percent rpm on a standard day, the weight of air flow per second through the engine will be less than 3. 13 due to decreased volume flow at lower rpm. Because of this, N1 rpm varies with the power output. If output power is increased, N1 rpm will increase and vice versa. Thus, the weight of air pumped by the compressor rotor is determined by rpm and air density.

Compressor efficiency determines the power necessary to create the pressure rise of a given airflow, and it affects the temperature change which takes place in the combustion chamber. Therefore, the compressor is one of the most important components of the gas turbine engine because its efficient operation is the key to overall engine performance. The following subparagraphs discuss the three basic compressors used in gas turbine engines: the centrifugal-flow, the axial-flow, and axial-centrifugal-flow compressors. The axial-centrifugal-flow compressor is a combination of the other two and operates with characteristics of both.

  • Centrifugal-flow compressor. Figure 1.12 shows the basic components of a centrifugal-flow compressor: rotor, stator, and compressor manifold.

Typical Single-stage Centrifugal Compressor
Figure 1.12. Typical Single-stage Centrifugal Compressor

As the impeller (rotor) revolves at high speed, air is drawn into the blades near the center. Centrifugal force accelerates this air and causes it to move outward from the axis of rotation toward the rim of the rotor where it is forced through the diffuser section at high velocity and high kinetic energy. The pressure rise is produced by reducing the velocity of the air in the diffuser, thereby converting velocity energy to pressure energy. The centrifugal compressor is capable of a relatively high compression ratio per stage. This compressor is not used on larger engines because of size and weight.

Because of the high tip speed problem in this design, the centrifugal compressor finds its greatest use on the smaller engines where simplicity, flexibility of operation, and ruggedness are the principal requirements rather than small frontal area and ability to handle high airflows and pressures with low loss of efficiency.

  • Axial-flow compressor. The air is compressed, as the name implies, in a direction parallel to the axis of the engine. The compressor is made of a series of rotating airfoils called rotor blades, and a stationary set of airfoils called stator vanes. A stage consists of two rows of blades, one rotating and one stationary. The entire compressor is made up of a series of alternating rotor and stator vane stages as shown in figure 1.13.

Axial-flow Compressor
Figure 1.13. Axial-flow Compressor.

Axial flow compressors have the advantage of being capable of very high compression ratios with relatively high efficiencies; see figure 1.14. Because of the small frontal area created by this type of compressor, it is ideal for installation on high-speed aircraft. Unfortunately, the delicate blading and close tolerances, especially toward the rear of the compressor where the blades are smaller and more numerous per stage, make this compressor highly susceptible to foreign-object damage. Because of the close fits required for efficient air-pumping and higher compression ratios, this type of compressor is very complex and very expensive to manufacture. For these reasons the axial-flow design finds its greatest application where required efficiency and output override the considerations of cost, simplicity, and flexibility of operation. However, due to modern technology, the cost of the small axial-flow compressor, used in Army aircraft, is coming down.

Compressor Efficiencies and Pressure Ratios
Figure 1.14. Compressor Efficiencies and Pressure Ratios.

  • Axial-centrifugal-flow compressor. The axial-centrifugal-flow compressor, also called the dual compressor, is a combination of the two types, using the same operating characteristics. Figure 1.15 shows the compressor used in the T53 turbine engine. Most of the gas turbine engines used in Army aircraft are of the dual compressor design. Usually it consists of a five- or seven-stage axial-flow compressor and one centrifugal-flow compressor. The dual compressors are mounted on the same shaft and turn in the same direction and at the same speed. The centrifugal compressor is mounted aft of the axial compressor. The axial compressor contains numerous air-foil-shaped blades and vanes that accomplish the task of moving the air mass into the combustor at an elevated pressure.

Axial-Centrifugal-Flow Compressor
Figure 1.15. Axial-Centrifugal-Flow Compressor.

As the air is drawn into the engine, its direction of flow is changed by the inlet guide vanes. The angle of entry is established to ensure that the air flow onto the rotating compressor blades is within the stall-free (angle of attack) range. Air pressure or velocity is not changed as a result of this action. As the air passes from the trailing edge of the inlet guide vanes, its direction of flow is changed due to the rotational effect of the compressor. This change of airflow direction is similar to the action that takes place when a car is driven during a rain or snow storm. The rain or snow falling in a vertical direction strikes the windshield at an angle due to the horizontal velocity of the car.

In conjunction with the change of airflow direction, the velocity of the air is increased. Passing through the rotating compressor blades, the velocity is decreased, and a gain in pressure is obtained. When leaving the trailing edge of the compressor blades, the velocity of the air mass is again increased by the rotational effect of the compressor. The angle of entry on to the stationary stator vanes results from this rotational effect as it did on the airflow onto the compressor.

Passing through the stationary stator vanes the air velocity is again decreased resulting in an increase in pressure. The combined action of the rotor blades and stator vanes results in an increase in air -pressure; combined they constitute one stage of compression. This action continues through all stages of the axial compressor. To retain this pressure buildup, the airflow is delivered, stage by stage, into a continually narrowing airflow path. After passing from the last set of stator vanes the air mass passes through exit guide vanes. These vanes direct the air onto the centrifugal impeller.

The centrifugal impeller increases the velocity of the air mass as it moves it in a radial direction.

  • Compressor stall. Gas turbine engines are designed to avoid the pressure conditions that allow engine surge to develop, but the possibility of surge still exists in engines that are improperly adjusted or have been abused. Engine surge occurs any time the combustion chamber pressure exceeds that in the diffuser, and it is identified by a popping sound which is issued from the inlet. Because there is more than one cause for surge, the resultant sound can range from a single carburetor backfire pop to a machinegun sound.

Angle of Attack - Airfoil Angles of Attack Versus LiftEngine surge is caused by a stall on the airfoil surfaces of the rotating blades or stationary vanes of the compressor. The stall can occur on individual blades or vanes or, simultaneously, on groups of them. To understand how this can induce engine surge, the causes and effects of stall on any airfoil must be examined.

All airfoils are designed to provide lift by producing a lower pressure on the convex (suction) side of the airfoil than on the concave (pressure) side. A characteristic of any airfoil is that lift increases with an increasing angle of attack, but only up to a critical angle. Beyond this critical angle of attack, lift falls off rapidly. This is due largely to the separation of the airflow from the suction surface of the airfoil, as shown in the sketch. This phenomenon is known as stall. All pilots are familiar with this condition and its consequences as it applies to the wing of an aircraft. The stall that takes place on the fixed or rotating blades of a compressor is the same as the stalling phenomenon of an aircraft wing.



David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015