Turbine Engine Operational Considerations
The great variety of turbine engines makes it impractical to cover specific operational procedures, but there are certain operational considerations common to all turbine engines. They are engine temperature limits, foreign object damage, hot start, compressor stall, and flameout.
Engine Temperature Limitations
The highest temperature in any turbine engine occurs at the turbine inlet. TIT is therefore usually the limiting factor in turbine engine operation.
Turbine engine thrust varies directly with air density. As air density decreases, so does thrust. Additionally, because air density decreases with an increase in temperature, increased temperatures also results in decreased thrust. While both turbine and reciprocating powered engines are affected to some degree by high relative humidity, turbine engines will experience a negligible loss of thrust, while reciprocating engines a significant loss of brake horsepower.
Foreign Object Damage (FOD)
Due to the design and function of a turbine engine’s air inlet, the possibility of ingestion of debris always exists. This causes significant damage, particularly to the compressor and turbine sections. When ingestion of debris occurs, it is called foreign object damage (FOD). Typical FOD consists of small nicks and dents caused by ingestion of small objects from the ramp, taxiway, or runway, but FOD damage caused by bird strikes or ice ingestion also occur. Sometimes FOD results in total destruction of an engine.
Prevention of FOD is a high priority. Some engine inlets have a tendency to form a vortex between the ground and the inlet during ground operations. A vortex dissipater may be installed on these engines. Other devices, such as screens and/or deflectors, may also be utilized. Preflight procedures include a visual inspection for any sign of FOD.
Turbine Engine Hot/Hung Start
When the EGT exceeds the safe limit of an aircraft, it experiences a “hot start.” This is caused by too much fuel entering the combustion chamber or insufficient turbine rpm. Any time an engine has a hot start, refer to the AFM/POH or an appropriate maintenance manual for inspection requirements.
If the engine fails to accelerate to the proper speed after ignition or does not accelerate to idle rpm, a hung or false start has occurred. A hung start may be caused by an insufficient starting power source or fuel control malfunction.
Compressor blades are small airfoils and are subject to the same aerodynamic principles that apply to any airfoil. A compressor blade has an AOA that is a result of inlet air velocity and the compressor’s rotational velocity. These two forces combine to form a vector, which defines the airfoil’s actual AOA to the approaching inlet air.
A compressor stall is an imbalance between the two vector quantities, inlet velocity, and compressor rotational speed. Compressor stalls occur when the compressor blades’ AOA exceeds the critical AOA. At this point, smooth airflow is interrupted and turbulence is created with pressure fluctuations. Compressor stalls cause air flowing in the compressor to slow down and stagnate, sometimes reversing direction. [Figure 7-28]
Compressor stalls can be transient and intermittent or steady and severe. Indications of a transient/intermittent stall are usually an intermittent “bang” as backfire and flow reversal take place. If the stall develops and becomes steady, strong vibration and a loud roar may develop from the continuous flow reversal. Often, the flight deck gauges do not show a mild or transient stall, but they do indicate a developed stall. Typical instrument indications include fluctuations in rpm and an increase in exhaust gas temperature. Most transient stalls are not harmful to the engine and often correct themselves after one or two pulsations. The possibility of severe engine damage from a steady state stall is immediate. Recovery must be accomplished by quickly reducing power, decreasing the aircraft’s AOA, and increasing airspeed.
Although all gas turbine engines are subject to compressor stalls, most models have systems that inhibit them. One system uses a variable inlet guide vane (VIGV) and variable stator vanes that direct the incoming air into the rotor blades at an appropriate angle. To prevent air pressure stalls, operate the aircraft within the parameters established by the manufacturer. If a compressor stall does develop, follow the procedures recommended in the AFM/POH.
A flameout occurs in the operation of a gas turbine engine in which the fire in the engine unintentionally goes out. If the rich limit of the fuel-air ratio is exceeded in the combustion chamber, the flame will blow out. This condition is often referred to as a rich flameout. It generally results from very fast engine acceleration where an overly rich mixture causes the fuel temperature to drop below the combustion temperature. It may also be caused by insufficient airflow to support combustion.
A more common flameout occurrence is due to low fuel pressure and low engine speeds, which typically are associated with high-altitude flight. This situation may also occur with the engine throttled back during a descent, which can set up the lean-condition flameout. A weak mixture can easily cause the flame to die out, even with a normal airflow through the engine.
Any interruption of the fuel supply can result in a flameout. This may be due to prolonged unusual attitudes, a malfunctioning fuel control system, turbulence, icing, or running out of fuel.
Symptoms of a flameout normally are the same as those following an engine failure. If the flameout is due to a transitory condition, such as an imbalance between fuel flow and engine speed, an airstart may be attempted once the condition is corrected. In any case, pilots must follow the applicable emergency procedures outlined in the AFM/ POH. Generally these procedures contain recommendations concerning altitude and airspeed where the airstart is most likely to be successful.
It is possible to compare the performance of a reciprocating powerplant and different types of turbine engines. For the comparison to be accurate, thrust horsepower (usable horsepower) for the reciprocating powerplant must be used rather than brake horsepower, and net thrust must be used for the turbine-powered engines. In addition, aircraft design configuration and size must be approximately the same.
When comparing performance, the following definitions are useful:
- Brake horsepower (BHP)—the horsepower actually delivered to the output shaft. Brake horsepower is the actual usable horsepower.
- Net thrust—the thrust produced by a turbojet or turbofan engine.
- Thrust horsepower (THP)—the horsepower equivalent of the thrust produced by a turbojet or turbofan engine.
Equivalent shaft horsepower (ESHP)—with respect to turboprop engines, the sum of the shaft horsepower (SHP) delivered to the propeller and THP produced by the exhaust gases.
Figure 7-29 shows how four types of engines compare in net thrust as airspeed is increased. This figure is for explanatory purposes only and is not for specific models of engines. The following are the four types of engines:
- Reciprocating powerplant
- Turbine, propeller combination (turboprop)
- Turbine engine incorporating a fan (turbofan)
- Turbojet (pure jet)
By plotting the performance curve for each engine, a comparison can be made of maximum aircraft speed variation with the type of engine used. Since the graph is only a means of comparison, numerical values for net thrust, aircraft speed, and drag are not included.
Comparison of the four powerplants on the basis of net thrust makes certain performance capabilities evident. In the speed range shown to the left of line A, the reciprocating powerplant outperforms the other three types. The turboprop outperforms the turbofan in the range to the left of line C. The turbofan engine outperforms the turbojet in the range to the left of line F. The turbofan engine outperforms the reciprocating powerplant to the right of line B and the turboprop to the right of line C. The turbojet outperforms the reciprocating powerplant to the right of line D, the turboprop to the right of line E, and the turbofan to the right of line F.
The points where the aircraft drag curve intersects the net thrust curves are the maximum aircraft speeds. The vertical lines from each of the points to the baseline of the graph indicate that the turbojet aircraft can attain a higher maximum speed than aircraft equipped with the other types of engines. Aircraft equipped with the turbofan engine attains a higher maximum speed than aircraft equipped with a turboprop or reciprocating powerplant.