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Aircraft Turbosuperchargers

by Flight Learnings

in Aircraft Systems

The most efficient method of increasing horsepower in an engine is by use of a turbosupercharger or turbocharger. Installed on an engine, this booster uses the engine’s exhaust gases to drive an air compressor to increase the pressure of the air going into the engine through the carburetor or fuel injection system to boost power at higher altitude.

The major disadvantage of the gear-driven supercharger––use of a large amount of the engine’s power output for the amount of power increase produced––is avoided with a turbocharger, because turbochargers are powered by an engine’s exhaust gases. This means a turbocharger recovers energy from hot exhaust gases that would otherwise be lost.

A second advantage of turbochargers over superchargers is the ability to maintain control over an engine’s rated sea-level horsepower from sea level up to the engine’s critical altitude. Critical altitude is the maximum altitude at which a turbocharged engine can produce its rated horsepower. Above the critical altitude, power output begins to decrease like it does for a normally aspirated engine.

Turbochargers increase the pressure of the engine’s induction air, which allows the engine to develop sea level or greater horsepower at higher altitudes. A turbocharger is comprised of two main elements: a compressor and turbine. The compressor section houses an impeller that turns at a high rate of speed. As induction air is drawn across the impeller blades, the impeller accelerates the air, allowing a large volume of air to be drawn into the compressor housing. The impeller’s action subsequently produces high-pressure, high-density air, which is delivered to the engine. To turn the impeller, the engine’s exhaust gases are used to drive a turbine wheel that is mounted on the opposite end of the impeller’s drive shaft. By directing different amounts of exhaust gases to flow over the turbine, more energy can be extracted, causing the impeller to deliver more compressed air to the engine. The waste gate, essentially an adjustable butterfly valve installed in the exhaust system, is used to vary the mass of exhaust gas flowing into the turbine. When closed, most of the exhaust gases from the engine are forced to flow through the turbine. When open, the exhaust gases are allowed to bypass the turbine by flowing directly out through the engine’s exhaust pipe. [Figure 6-15]

Turbocharger components.

Figure 6-15. Turbocharger components. Click to Enlarge

Since the temperature of a gas rises when it is compressed, turbocharging causes the temperature of the induction air to increase. To reduce this temperature and lower the risk of detonation, many turbocharged engines use an intercooler. This small heat exchanger uses outside air to cool the hot compressed air before it enters the fuel metering device.

518VcjVMo3L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_Learn more about aircraft and their systems with A Pilot’s Guide to Aircraft and Their Systems by ASA. Pilot-oriented rather than mechanic-oriented, this guide to aircraft systems is designed specifically to help general aviation pilots understand how aircraft systems work so that they can better use them in flight.

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