Aircraft Fuel Systems

The airplane is a complex technical object. Like a human or other organisms, it consists of numerous vital systems; with one of the more critical ones being the fuel system. It is important part of any vehicle, let alone aircraft, aside from  the newest electric powered vehicles.

An aircraft’s fuel system provides fuel that is loaded, stored, managed and transported to the propulsion system of the vehicle[1, 2]. As aviation fuel is liquid, this system can be considered as hydraulic. Therefore, it’s able to be mapped out and modeled for analysis in a program like AxSTREAM NET™.

The Typical Fuel System of a Narrow-body Passenger Plane

For an example of a conventional aviation fuel system, consider a typical narrow-body airliner with two engines. Some of the popular planes in this category include the Boeing 737, the Tupolev Tu-204, Airbus A320, Comac C919, Sukhoi Superjet 100, Bombardier CRJ, Embraer E-Jet and Mitsubishi Regional Jet[3].

The storage fuel system is shown in figure 1 is for the Boeing 737-300. The fuel is kept in an integral tank that is divided to five separate subdivisions. They are the central, wing (main) and surge tanks[4].

Storage fuel system of a Boeing 737
Figure 1 – Storage Fuel System of a Boeing 737-300 [4]
The hydraulic scheme of the Boeing 737’s fuel system is shown in Figure 2. For fueling and defueling the storage system there are ports on the starboard wing. The system does not have pumps to onboard fuel, so fuel is pumped into the plane via a fuel truck. The other critical part of the fuel system is the line which delivers fuel to the two engines and the auxiliary power unit. In this line there are two boost centrifugal pumps by each engine.
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Centrifugal Compressor Reverse Engineering and Digital Twin Development

Centrifugal Compressors are the turbomachines also known as turbo-compressors, and belong to the roto-dynamic class of compressors. In these compressors the required pressure rise takes place due to the continuous conversion of angular momentum imparted to the working fluid by a high-speed impeller into pressure. These compressors are used in small gas-turbines, turbochargers, chiller units, in the process and paper industries, oil & gas industries and others.

The design and manufacturing of such compressors are always challenging because of its 3-dimensional shapes, high rotational speeds that interact with different loss mechanisms, and stringent working environments. In many circumstances, it is necessary to analyze an existing compressor, with the end goal being to redesign it, enhance its performance, or to use it in completely different applications. In order to meet such requirements, reverse engineering is a viable option. With reverse engineering, one can review competitor’s design to remain in market competition.

Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering allows us to collect incomplete or non-existing design data and manufacture an accurate recreation, safely, of the original product or component.

Sometimes, it is also referred to as back engineering, in which centrifugal compressors or any other product are deconstructed to extract design information from them. Oftentimes, reverse engineering involves deconstructing individual components like the impeller or diffuser of larger compressors. End-users often use this approach when purchasing a replacement impeller or any other compressor part from an OEM is not an option. In some cases, where older impellers that have not been manufactured for 20 years or more, the original 2D drawings are no longer available.  When this is the case, the only way to obtain the design of an original compressor is through reverse engineering.

Reverse engineering requires a series of steps to gather precise information on a product’s dimensions. Once collected, the data can be stored in digital archives. Figure 1 (left) shows the typical process of reverse engineering. In figure 1 (right), one can see the scanning process of the centrifugal impeller using a laser scanner.

Figure 1 (left) Reverse Engineering Process (right) Scanning of impeller
Figure 1 (left) Reverse Engineering Process (right) Scanning of Impeller. Source

To reverse engineer an impeller or any other part of compressor, an organization will typically acquire the component and take it apart to examine its internal mechanisms. This way, engineers can unveil information about the original design and construction of the product. One can start by analyzing the dimensions and attributes of the impeller and make measurements of the blade widths, diameters and angles, as these dimensions often relate to the compressor’s performance. Read More

Hans von Ohain – The Other Father of Jet Engines and the Gas Turbine

The question of who invented the jet engine is often met with two different answers, and neither is really wrong. In fact, we posed this question on our LinkedIn page, and got the same mixed results seen elsewhere.  Both Sir Frank Whittle and Hans von Ohain were responsible for inventing the turbojet engine at the same time. While Dr. von Ohain knew of Sir Frank’s work, he did not draw information from, while Sir Frank was unaware that anyone else was designing a turbojet engine.  While we’ve covered Sir Frank Whittle before, today we’ll be looking at the life of Hans von Ohain, his invention of the turbojet, and his contributions to turbomachinery engineering.

Dr. Hans von Ohain
Dr. Hans von Ohain

Dr. Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain was born on December 14, 1911 in Dessau, Germany. He went to school at the University of Göttingen where he received his PhD in Physics and Aerodynamics in 1935. During his studies and following his graduation, he was captivated by  aviation and airplane propulsion, with a specific interest in developing an aircraft that did not rely on a piston-driven propeller. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, he “conceived the idea for jet propulsion in 1933 when he realized that the great noise and vibrations of the propeller piston engines seemed to destroy the smoothness and steadiness of flying”. (1) Read More

Modern Challenges in Aviation Propulsion Systems

Introduction

Aviation is coming into a new age of carbon free energy, similar to what is being explored with ground transportation. Currently, aviation transportation generates about 2.5% of the global CO2 emission [1]. Several countries have introduced targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 [2].

Many aerospace teams have joined the great engineering challenge to change the future of aviation.  With this, a number of different types of aircraft with different types of propulsion systems have been proposed.

Hybrid Propulsion System

The first step to a carbon-free propulsion system is hybrid technology. This kind of power plant increases efficiency, decreases emission of greenhouse gases and uses a traditional engine to produce electricity and electric motors to drive the fans or propellers [3].

The chemical engines operate at optimal conditions at any mode of a route. On the other hand, the electric motor is able to work in generator mode, using the kinetic energy of the vehicle during deceleration.

Hybrid propulsion energy system
Figure 1 – Hybrid propulsion energy system

The hybrid aircraft is classified by several attributes. Using thrust devices, we will consider the two base types of propellers and fans. Read More

Considerations for Electric Aircraft Fan Design

Due to concerns about air travel’s impact on climate change, research and development into electric aircraft has been ongoing for several years. Within the last decade several startups as well as larger corporations have been developing electric or hybrid electric aircraft (Ros, 2017). The ultimate goal is to Conduct long (>500 miles), full-electric commercial flights with large aircrafts capable of carrying 100’s of passengers, but this will require at least 5-10 more years of development. Luckily, smaller electric aircraft designed for short-range flights (<500 miles) with anywhere from 1-20 passengers have already been tested successfully utilizing electric batteries, a hybrid-electric system and even a hydrogen fuel cell.  With these advances, emission-free air travel is closer than you think.

Electric Aircraft

Examples of full-electric aircraft designs include the Airbus E-Fan 1.0 and E-Fan 1.1 (Airbus Group), shown in Figure 1. These two-person aircraft utilize two ducted, variable-pitch fans, shown in Figure 2. Each fan is powered by a 30-kW electric motor. The motors are powered by several lithium-ion battery packs stored in the wings. While the aircraft only provides an hour of flight time, the batteries can recharge in approximately one hour and can be easily be swapped in and out.

Figure 1: Airbus E-Fan (Airbus Group)
Figure 1: Airbus E-Fan (Airbus Group)
Figure 2: E-Fan ducted fan (Varmin, 2014)
Figure 2: E-Fan ducted fan (Varmin, 2014)

There are several reasons besides climate change why electric aircraft should be developed from a business perspective (Figure 3). Short and mid-range regional flights make up a significant portion of all flights around the world.  The current flight range of electric aircraft is limited to these short and mid-range fights. Additionally, shorter flights spend relatively more time taking off and landing than cruising at high altitudes, which makes shorter trips less energy efficient. While short, regional flights are economically unattractive for large commercial aircraft, a smaller aircraft with less fuel consumption may provide a valuable alternative. Read More

Notable Military Jet Engines

As a special tribute this Veterans Day, we decided to have a look at some of the most notable engines that have been used to propel military vehicles throughout history.

PW F135

Kicking off our list is the Pratt & Whitney 135 turbofan engine. The pride and joy of Pratt & Whitney’s military engine lineup, the 135 powers the US Military’s F35 Lightning II. Presently, two variants of the F135 are used in several different variants of the F35, although it should be noted that the F135 was developed specifically for the F35. The 3 engine variants are known as the F135-PW-100, the F135-PW-600, and the F135-PW-400, each for a different application of the F35. The 100 variant is used in the conventional take off and landing F35A, the 600 is used in the F135B for short take off and vertical landing F35B, and the 400 uses salt corrosion-resistant materials for the Naval variant F35C.

A Lockheed Martin F35A in fight, and an F35C taking off from the USS Abraham Lincoln

The F135 is capable of 28,000 lbf of thrust with the afterburner capability pushing thrust all the way to a whopping 43,000 lbf of thrust, making the Lightning II a supersonic STOVL aircraft suited to a wide variety of applications, as seen in the above illustrations. At the heart of the Pratt F135 are 3 fan stages, 6 compressor stages, and 3 turbine stages. In the STOVL variant, the F135-600 uses the same core components, but is also coupled to a drive shaft which connects the engine to the lift fans which were originally developed by Rolls-Royce, and give the Lightning the ability to hover, perform short distance takeoffs, and vertical landings.

A Royal Air Force RAF F35B Lightning II performing a vertical landing on a Royal Navy carrier.
A Royal Air Force RAF F35B Lightning II performing a vertical landing on a Royal Navy carrier.

The F35 by Pratt & Whitney and in turn the F35 Lightning II by Lockheed Martin represent the cutting edge in military aviation, and are the centerpieces of Pratt and Lockheed respectively. The Lightning variants and this line of turbofan engines will be in service with several branches of the US military and its allies around the world for the foreseeable future, with more iterations of the F135 to come. Read More

Hydrogen Energy: History, Applications, and Future Developments

A Brief History Of The Discovery Of Hydrogen 

The release of combustible gas during the interaction of metals and acids was observed as early as the 16th century. That is, during the formation of chemistry as a science. The famous English scientist Henry Cavendish had studied the substance since 1766, and gave it the name “combustible air”. When burned, this gas produced water. Unfortunately, the scientist’s adherence to the theory of phlogiston (the theory that suggested the existence of a fire-type element in materials) prevented him from coming to the correct conclusions.

Henry Cavendish (1731 – 1810)
Henry Cavendish (1731 – 1810) Source: https://www.butterflyfields.com/henry-cavendish-contributions-in-science/

In 1783 the French chemist and naturalist A. Lavoisier, together with the engineer J. Meunier, and with the help of special gas meters carried out the synthesis of water, and then its analysis by means of decomposition of water vapor with hot iron. Thus, scientists were able to come to the correct conclusions, and dismantle the phlogiston theory. They found that “combustible air” is not only a part of water but can also be obtained from it. In 1787, Lavoisier put forward the assumption that the gas under study is a simple substance and, accordingly, belongs to the number of primary chemical elements. He named it hydrogene (from the Greek words hydor – water + gennao – I give birth), that is, “giving birth to water”.

Antoine-Laurent
Antoine-Laurent
de Lavoisier (1743 – 1794). Source: https://educalingo.com/en/dic-en/lavoisier

A Little About The Properties Of Hydrogen 

In a free state and under normal conditions, hydrogen is a gas, and is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Hydrogen has almost 14.5 times mass less than air. It usually exists in combination with other elements, such as oxygen in water, carbon in methane, and organic compounds. Because hydrogen is chemically extremely active, it is rarely present as an unbound element. Read More

The Top 5 Coolest Turbomachinery Inventions (According to Us!)

As the leading authority on turbomachinery design, redesign, analysis, and optimization, we work with a wide range of machines from small water pumps and blowers to massive steam turbines, jet engines, and liquid rocket engines. While all of these machines have a certain “cool factor” to them since, after all, we’ve proven they make the world go round; some machines take coolness to the next level. Today, we’re taking a look at 5 of the coolest specific turbomachinery inventions, according to us.

Number 5 – The Arabelle Turbines

Starting with number 5, we have a pair of steam turbines, each known as “Arabelle”. You may be asking yourself “So what, steam turbines are everywhere.” You would be right, but these two have a bit of a size advantage. In fact, they’re the largest steam turbines in the world.

Designed and built by General Electric in France, these turbines are, according to GE, “longer than an Airbus 380 and taller than the average man. A pair of them, each capable of producing 1770 megawatts, is now set to cross the English Channel to provide energy for generations” (1).

They’ll be installed in a new nuclear power plant known as Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Their 1.7 gigawatt output will be enough to power 6 million homes, which is 7% of the UK’s power consumption. (1) The output and sheer size of the turbines aren’t the only large number either, the project costs nearly 24 billion US dollars.

A CAD model of the Arabelle steam turbines, image courtesy of General Electric.
A CAD model of the Arabelle steam turbines, image courtesy of General Electric.

The sheer size and performance figures have earned GE a place on our list of top 5 cool turbomachines!

Number 4 – The Garrett 3571VA Variable Geometry Turbocharger

This is one only gearheads and diesel-fans may recognize, but even then, it’s an obscure one. This Garrett turbocharger was a game changer for diesel engines used in light and medium duty trucks, specifically the Navistar International VT365, also known as the Ford 6.0 Liter Powerstroke engine. Read More

Turbomachinery in Racing

While Formula racing is well known for its use of standardized turbocharged V6 engines in all races, they’re certainly not the only races where turbocharged engines are used; and in some cases, the vehicle isn’t even a car! Today’s blog is going to look at turbomachinery in racing, starting with the origin of their usage, and looking at some of the different applications where these machines are found.

As we covered in recent blog, turbocharging has been around since the turn of the 20th century, however its applications was limited for a time to heavy-duty marine applications; high-end cars and trucking; and military aviation. By the 1950’s that had changed thanks to Cummins’ entry in the Indy 500, with their advanced turbodiesel engine raising eyebrows until it catastrophically failed. The point was made though, as Indy banned turbodiesels from the races going forward.  Current IndyCar engine specs call for a 2.2 liter V6 engine that is twin-turbocharged with a fixed boost level. These engines can crank out an astonishing 700 horsepower at full chat, which is around 12,000 RPM. If you’re curious about just how Honda is getting this supercar levels of horsepower out of such an engine, I definitely recommend having a look at the magnificent explanation done by Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained.

On the left #28, the Cummins Diesel special which had the famed turbodiesel engine, and on the right, the 2.2L Honda IndyCar engine. Images courtesy of Truck Trend and Engineering Explained respectively.

We’ll circle back to turbocharged road racing in a moment, but let’s talk about jet engines and the H1, first. Started in 1946, H1 Unlimited is a racing league where teams compete using hydroplanes (not to be confused with the extremely dangerous condition that occurs on wet roads). These hydroplanes rely on lift as opposed to their buoyancy to maintain high speeds and maneuverability. After World War II, the surplus of aircraft engines like the famed Rolls-Royce Merlin V12, discussed in an earlier blog, found their way into these high speed watercraft.

The Lycoming T55 turboshaft engine, powering everything from Chinooks, to race boats. Left image courtesy of Mr. Z-man

In modern times however, H1 Unlimited has now standardized the engines used in competing hydroplanes, and all craft must now use the Lycoming T55 turboshaft engine, which was originally used in the famed Boeing CH47 Chinook helicopter.

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Gas Turbine Cooling System Design Procedures

Introduction

State-of-the-art gas turbine engines usually work under extremely high temperatures. This is directly related to efficiency of the gas turbines – in order to receive the maximum thermodynamics value, it is necessary to increase the gas temperature after the combustion chamber. Engine temperature can be higher than blades’ metal temp up to 500-600 K. Blades, nozzles, and the GT details are manufactured with special heat-resistant steels and in some cases, they require a special coating. That allows them to resist turning into liquid metal under these working temperatures like the T-1000 did in the “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” movie even under high temperatures :).

Picture 1 – T-1000 from Terminator 2
Picture 1 – T-1000 from Terminator 2. Source

However, metal has the property of “creep” – this is the tendency of hard metal to move slowly or permanently deform under stress. This occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to high stresses above the yield point, especially when exposed to high temperatures. Obviously, the solution to this problem is a cooling system for heat-stressed parts, which has allowed the gas temperature to increase by 600 K compared with uncooled machines. Since the gas turbines usually work with air, the simplest way to cool the system is by using this. Typically, the air exhausts to different parts of the compressors and is supplied to the cooling paths and blades which influence the thermodynamics efficiency of the gas turbine engine. Thus, it is crucial to ensure enough cooling to remove the heat on the one hand and on the other hand – to receive the lowest amount of air which requires cooling. Read More