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Gas Turbine Engine Internal Air Systems

Peter R N Childs
4th August 2006

It has been estimated that as many as three million people may be airborne at any given moment
(Spittle (2003)). Gas turbine engine technology, which is responsible as the prime mover for the
vast proportion of this figure, is therefore of critical importance. The quest for fuel efficient engines,
low emissions, low noise levels has put ever increasing demands on engine design. The challenge
has been intensified with growing commercial pressure to meet these objectives in the shortest time
possible whilst still complying with ever tougher emission regulations.

The considerable improvements in thermal efficiency and specific fuel consumption, achieved since
the first successful engine test in 1937, a design based on Frank Whittle’s patent (1930), are largely
due to increases in the overall pressure ratio of the thermodynamic cycle and have consequently led
to higher turbine inlet temperatures. Since the early 1940s the turbine inlet temperature has risen
significantly from approximately 800 oC in Whittle’s and von Ohain’s designs, to over 1600 oC in
some of the current engines developed by Rolls-Royce plc (Rolls-Royce (2005)). In many high
performance applications the turbine inlet temperature has now risen to such an extent that it limits
the length of time that nickel alloy turbine blades can operate. The effective cooling of the turbine
components, in particular blades, nozzle guide vanes and discs, is paramount. The problem is
compounded by the increase in compressor outlet temperature to levels of approximately 700 oC,
synonymous with the higher pressure ratios, since this supply provides the source of the cooling
airflow conveyed to the turbine via the internal air system.

The gas turbine engine internal air system provides cooling to various critical components, sealing
for bearing chambers and flow paths and controls bearing axial loads. In order to supply the internal
air system flow requirement, up to 20% of the engine core flow is extracted from the compressor.
This can consume up to 5% of the fuel and it is therefore important to minimise the quantity of air
required for the internal air system whilst maintaining functionality of the engine, acceptable
component life, robustness and acceptable manufacture costs. For a large passenger aircraft a 1%
reduction in specific fuel consumption could save 560 tonnes of fuel per annum and reduce direct
operating costs by 0.5% (Smout et al. (2004)). It is therefore extremely important to be able to
reduce the uncertainties associated with optimising the system.

A typical internal air system will include a compressor bleed take off, transfer tubes and passages to
deliver the cooling and sealing air to critical components and use of differential pressure across disc
surfaces to balance bearing loads. A gas turbine engine generally comprises a series of discs for the
rotating blades and a stationary casing and support structure. A common feature is the cavity
formed between coaxial rotating and stationary discs, which is known as a wheelspace or a rotor-
stator cavity. In addition cavities are also formed between co-rotating discs (see Long and Childs
(2006)). Components requiring cooling include the combustor, which is normally cooled by the
main gas path, the high pressure turbine, parts of which can reach temperatures over 1600 oC
(Rolls-Royce (2005)), and shafts. Components that require sealing include turbine rotor-stator
cavities, bearing chambers, transmission systems and the transfer elements delivering system air to
the targeted components. Types of seal used include interstitial seals such as labyrinth, bush and rim
seals, carbon seals, leaf and brush seals, hydraulic seals and static seals such as strip, cloth
(Farahani and Childs (2006)) and sigma seals.

The theory of rotating fluids and associated heat transfer is important to a wide range of
applications in engineering and science and especially relevant to the internal air system of a gas
turbine engine (ESDU (2006)). There are many subtle interactions between fluids and associated
structures and boundaries that produce vorticity and secondary flows. An interest in the fluid flow
associated with rotating machinery may stem from the need to know the losses associated with
windage or requirements for sealing or cooling. There are fundamental differences between rotating
and linear flows and it is the Coriolis terms that are responsible for the differences between the
dynamics of non-rotating and rotating fluids. These give rise to complex flow phenomena that are
often non-intuitive to the practising engineer. It is these flows that make the subject area interesting
and an on-going challenge despite advances in modelling and data available. It is these systems that
provide the focus for the research in the Thermo-Fluid Mechanics Research Centre and the Rolls-
Royce supported University Technology Centre in Aero-Thermal Systems at the University of
Sussex. A wide range of relevant technology is studied with a specific expertise and track record in
producing data from high speed rotating rigs (Childs et al. (2006)), small scale rigs and
accompanying theoretical and modelling studies.

Opportunities to undertake study on these fascinating and challenging applications are available at
the University of Sussex as are opportunities to sponsor research activity. Please contact us.

Peter R N Childs
Director of the Rolls-Royce supported University Technology Centre in Aero-Thermal Systems,
University of Sussex

Childs, P.R.N., Dullenkopf, K. and Bohn, D. Internal air systems experimental rig best practice.
ASME Paper GT2006-90215, 2006.
ESDU. Flow in rotating components. Discs, cylinders and cavities. Engineering Sciences Data Unit,
Farahani, A., and Childs, P.R.N. Nozzle guide vane static strip seals. ASME Paper GT2006-90185,
Long, C.A., and Childs, P.R.N. The effect of inlet conditions on the flow and heat transfer in a
multiple rotating cavity with axial throughflow. Proceedings of 1st ISJPPE, the First International
Symposium on Jet Propulsion and Power Engineering, Kunming, China, September 17-22, 2006.
Rolls-Royce. The Jet Engine, Rolls-Royce Publications, 2005.
Smout, PD, Chew, JW, Childs, PRN. ICAS-GT: A European collaborative research programme on
internal cooling air systems for gas turbines. ASME Paper GT-2002-30479, 2002.
Spittle, P. Gas Turbine Technology, Physics Education, Special Feature: Flight, Vol. 38, No. 6, pp.
504-511, IOP Publishing Ltd, 2003.

Contact Details
Prof Peter RN Childs FIMechE, MIED, Mem.ASME
Director Rolls-Royce supported UTC in Aero-Thermal Systems
University of Sussex, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9QT United Kingdom
T 01273 678793 F 01273 678486