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Even the smallest of aircraft contain engines that produce enormous amounts of heat. In order for any aircraft to operate with peak efficiency and safety, it is necessary for there to be a cooling system with the capability of dissipating enough heat to bring the associated components to a secure temperature. Since aircraft engines can reach temperatures of over 260°C, the vessel must contain an improvised cooling system, often comprising several specialized parts. In this blog, we will discuss the various elements in place as part of an aircraft cooling system.
In order to understand cooling techniques, it is first necessary to review where the heat comes from in an aircraft engine. An ideal engine would operate with 100% efficiency. That is to say, if an experimental amount of fuel is added, all of it would be converted into useful work. Of course, no engine operates with these levels of efficiency, with most reciprocating models only producing 30-60%. By definition, the rest of this energy is expelled as heat. Although the engine oil is capable of absorbing some of the produced heat, the rest circulates around the engine until dissipating through a cooling system.
The most straightforward cooling method is to install fins on the engine. These small ridges along the engine's combustion cylinder help create a greater surface area for air to pass over, thereby increasing the rate of heat dissipation. In addition to being one of the most important elements of this cooling system, it is also one that is most vulnerable to damage. As such, crews must carry out an in-depth inspection of all cylinder surfaces as part of preventative maintenance.
In addition to fins, a cowlings and baffles are used extensively to facilitate airflow through the engine compartment. In particular, atmospheric air enters the cowling through one or more inlets near the front of the engine or propellers. From there, it is guided directly to the hottest section of the engine by the aid of baffles, which are linear elements that are used to trap air. Since this method of cooling relies upon the outside air, it is impossible to regulate the magnitude of its effect. As a result, air-cooling is particularly ineffective when operating on the ground or in-flight at low speeds. The opposite is true for high-speed, high-altitude flights, in which case there is a chance of overcooling from the excess low-temperature air.
Cowl flaps are small, mechanically actuated doors found on the front of the engine. When opened completely, maximum airflow is permitted to reach the engine. However, the opened door creates aerodynamic issues like drag. While this can lead to significant problems in flight, the standard procedure for ground operations is to open the cowl flaps completely, helping cool the engines before takeoff.
In addition to the passive, air-facilitated cooling techniques, many aircraft also now utilize augmentation systems such as adjunct technology. This system consists of tubes that surround the engine in its entirety and collect some of the exhaust gas before it escapes. The augmenters then mix the hot exhaust with cool atmospheric air, promoting widespread and rapid cooling.
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