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EU research for crucial aero engine assessment

EU-funded ‘HEATTOP’ and ‘EVI-GTI’ initiatives are looking for new ways to measure important turbofan engine parameters.

Flight into sunset © Peter Gutierrez
Hot aeronautics research
© Peter Gutierrez

Turbofan engines provide thrust for the majority of today’s commercial and private airliners. In modern turbofans, power and thrust result from the combustion of kerosene, generating temperatures of 1600–1800 °C. This is well beyond the melting temperature of the most advanced metallic alloys.

“It is important to be able to monitor crucial parameters in modern aero engines,” says European Commission Scientific Officer Remy Denos. These parameters, he explains, include pressure levels, temperature and tip clearance (the small gap between the rotating blade and the fixed wall).

Extremely high temperatures can be maintained inside engines due to a combination of thermal barrier coating and intensive cooling of combustion chamber walls, but so far no measuring instruments have been developed that can be introduced into such environments.

HEATTOP looks for answers

The EU-funded HEATTOP project is working to develop new ways to measure pressure, temperature and blade tip clearance in regions of aero engines where temperatures are exceedingly high.

“All these factors are important for the performance of an aeroengine,” says Denos. “Having the possibility to measure them, not only in test rigs but also in flight, would be very beneficial to aircraft engine manufacturers.”

The HEATTOP project is led by Siemens and brings together three gas turbine manufacturers, seven specialised instrumentation companies (including three SMES), three universities and four research centres.

Aeronautics research © Rolls Royce
Technical excellence
© Rolls Royce

At a recent two-year project review, EC officials noted “significant progress”. A number of innovative new probes are now being tested under harsh conditions in special experimental rigs and preparations are underway for further tests in more representative engine test beds, including small and medium sized aero engines and large industrial gas turbines.

“For the research groups involved, HEATTOP will be a unique opportunity to go from probe design up to full engine testing in a single project,” says Denos. “And engine and rig providers will have access to data in regions that were never explored before.”

EVI-GTI promoting collaboration

HEATTOP results were also featured at a 2008 joint EVI-GTI and PIWG conference in Seville.

EVI-GTI is the European Virtual Institute for Gas Turbine Instrumentation, a Thematic Network set up with EU funding and now a self-sustaining international non-profit association. It organises regular conferences and workshops to highlight areas where research efforts should be concentrated.

EVI-GTI has around 30 members, including major European gas turbine manufacturers, SME’s, universities and research centres. It works closely with a similar US-based group, the PIWG (Propulsion Instrumentation Working Group).

“Because the Community of researchers working on gas turbine instrumentation is small,” says Denos, “this transatlantic co-operation has proven to be very useful and fruitful.”

The recent ‘Second Joint EVI-GTI and PIWG International Gas Turbine Instrumentation Conference’, held in Seville, featured 32 technical presentations and two keynote speeches, one from the US Department of Energy and one from the Aeronautics unit of the European Commission’s Research Directorate General. The two groups also held a joint meeting to discuss new ways to collaborate.