Heat is produced in an engine primarily through the combustion process— when fuel and air is mixed and burned to produce heat energy that is converted to mechanical energy for rotation or to produce high-pressure exhaust. The material that is used to construct an engine has high heat capabilities, however, excessive heat can cause serious damage or failure to an engine.
Most aircraft powerplants dissipate about half of their produced heat through the exhaust and remaining heat is absorbed by the engine. Excessive heat is undesirable because it changes the process that the combustion chamber utilizes, creates excessive wear on engine components, and impairs lubrication. In order to prevent the detrimental effects of overheating, engines contain cooling systems. They vary in complexity depending on the specific engine and how much heat it produces.
Reciprocating Engine Cooling
Reciprocating engines are either cooled by passing air over the cylinder fins or through liquid coolants. Oil that is circulating through the engine picks up some of the heat and transfers it to the airstream through an oil cooler and the rest of the cooling system handle the remaining excess heat. In order to cool an engine, heat needs to be transferred from the cylinders to the air. Cooling fins are used to do this. If too many of the cooling fins are broken, the cylinders need to be replaced to prevent hotspot development. Cowlings and baffles force air over the fins and the baffles have built in blast tubes to direct cool air on to the rear spark plug elbows of each cylinder. This stream of cool air prevents the ignition leads from overheating.
Because an engine needs to stay within temperature ranges, whether it’s becoming too hot or too cold, it needs to have components that control the heating and cooling properties. This is why cowl flaps are used to control cooling. Cowl flaps are extended to cool the engine. Controllable cowl flaps aren’t necessary when the cowling has openings at the nose. Air may be taken in by the holes to cool the engine.
Turbine Engine Cooling
Turbine engines have a continuous combustion process and produce very high levels of heat. They require a more sophisticated cooling system. A large surplus of air is used to begin cooling off a turbine engine. The turbine blades end up absorbing a lot of heat and are usually the hottest area. Because of their conductivity, they pass heat to the outer skin of the engine. Center tubes are used to direct cool air into the center of the burner to increase combustion efficiency and dilute the hot gases before they enter the turbines. The turbine case, bearings, and turbine nozzle are cooled by cooling-air inlets that are on the exterior of the engine. The fan air is used to cool off the engine and its nacelle.
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