Aircraft De-Icing Systems

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 23rd, 2013

Technology 101

A build-up of Ice on Airfoils causes a Reduction of Lift and a Loss of Stability

In the classic movie Airport (1970) after the guy pulled the trigger on his briefcase bomb the plane suffered a massive decompression.  When Dean Martin got back to the cockpit he told the flight engineer to give them all the heat they had.  Because it’s very cold flying above 10,000 feet without pressurization.  That’s why World War II flight crews wore a lot of heavy clothing and thick mittens in their bombers.  As well as oxygen masks as the air was too thin to breathe.  The B-17 even had open windows for the waste gunners.  Making it very cold inside the plane.  Because the air is very, very cold at altitude.

There is another problem at altitude.  Because of these very frigid temperatures.  Water droplets in the air will freeze to any surface they come into contact with.  They can reduce engine power for both propeller and jet engines.  They can freeze on ports used for instrumentation and give inaccurate readings of vital aircraft data (such as engine pressure ratio, aircraft speed, etc.).  And they can freeze on airfoils (wings, rudder, tail fin, etc.).  Disturbing the airflow on these surfaces.  Causing a reduction of lift and a loss of stability.

Ice and airplanes are two things that don’t go together.  As ice forms on a wing it disturbs the airflow over the surface of the wing.  Increasing drag.  And reducing lift.  Causing the plane to lose speed.  And altitude.  If the ice continues to form on the wing eventually it will stall the wing.  And if the wing stalls (i.e., produces no lift) the plane will simply fall out of the sky.  In the early days of aviation pilots were highly skilled in flying their planes where there were no icing conditions.  Flying over, under or around masses of air containing water droplets in subfreezing temperatures.  Today we have anti-icing systems.

The most common Anti-Icing System on Commercial Jets is a Bleed Air System

One of the most common anti-icing systems on turboprop aircraft is the use of inflatable boots over the leading edge of the wing.  Basically a rubber surface that they can pump air into.  When there is no ice on the wing the boot lies flat on the leading edge without interrupting the airflow.  When ice forms on the leading edge of the wing the boot inflates and expands.  Cracking the ice that formed over it.  Which falls away from the wing.

Commercial jets have larger airfoils.  And require a larger anti-icing system.  The most common being a pneumatic manifold system that ducts hot air to areas subject to icing.  Which works thanks to a property of gas.  If you compress a gas you increase its temperature.  That’s how a diesel engine can work without sparkplugs.  The compressed air-fuel mixture gets so hot it ignites.  This property comes in handy on a jet plane as there is a readily available source of compressed air.  The jet engines.

As the air enters the jet it goes through a series of fast-spinning rotors.  As the air moves through the engine these rotors push this air into smaller and smaller spaces.  Compressing it.  Through a low-pressure compressor.  And then through a high-pressure compressor.  At which time the air temperature can be in excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is in the high-pressure compressor that we ‘bleed’ off some of this hot and pressurized air.  We call this a bleed air system.  The air then enters a manifold which ducts it to at-risk icing areas.  From the engine cowling to the wings to the instrumentation ports.  Using the hot air to raise temperatures in these areas above the freezing temperature of water.  Thus preventing the formation of ice.

The Drawback of a Bleed Air System is Reduced Engine Efficiency

The bleed air system does more than just anti-icing.  It also pressurizes the cabin.  As well as keeps it warm.  Which is why we don’t have to dress like a crewmember on a World War II bomber when we fly.  It also powers the air conditioning system.  And the hydraulic system.  It provides the pressure for the water system.  And it even starts the jet engines.  With the source of pressurized bleed air coming from the auxiliary power unit mounted in the tail.  Or from an external ground unit.  Once the jets are running they disconnect from the auxiliary source and run on the bleed air from the engines.

There is one drawback of a bleed air system.  It bleeds air from the jet engine.  Thus reducing the efficiency of the engine.  And a less efficient engine burns more fuel.  Raising the cost of flying.  With high fuel costs and low margins airlines do everything within their power to reduce the consumption of fuel.  Which is why pilots don’t top off their fuel tanks.  They’d like to.  But extra fuel is extra weight which increases fuel consumption.  So they only take on enough fuel to get to their destination with enough reserve to go to an alternate airport.  Even though it seems risky few planes run out of fuel in flight.  Allowing the airlines to stay in business without having to raise ticket prices beyond what most people can afford.

To help airlines squeeze out more costs Boeing designed their 787 Dreamliner to be as light as possible by using more composite material and less metal.  Making it lighter.  They are also using a more efficient engine.  Engines without a bleed air system.  In fact, they eliminated the pneumatic system on the 787.  Converting the pneumatic components to electric.  Such as using electric heating elements for anti-icing.  Thus eliminating the weight of the bleed air manifold and duct system.  As well as increasing engine efficiency.  Because all engine energy goes to making thrust.  Which reduces fuel consumption.  The key to profitability and survival in the airline industry.

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Thrust, Drag, Lift, Weight, Concorde, Center of Pressure, Center of Gravity, Boeing 747, Slats and Flaps

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 16th, 2013

Technology 101

The Drawback to increasing Thrust and Lift with more Powerful Engines is the Weight of Greater Fuel Loads

To get an airplane off of the ground requires two things.  To produce thrust that is greater than drag.  And to produce lift that is greater than weight.  You do this and you’ll get any airplane off of the ground.  Of course, getting these two things is not the easiest thing to do.  Primarily because of the purpose of airplanes.  To move people and freight.  People and freight add weight.  Which increases the amount of lift needed.  And they make the plane bigger.  A bigger object displaces more air increasing drag.  And thus requiring more thrust.

Engines provide thrust.  And wings provide lift.  So the obvious solution to overcome greater drag is to produce greater thrust.  And the solution to overcome greater weight is to produce greater lift.  And we do both with fuel.  Greater amounts of fuel can power bigger engines that can produce more thrust.  And larger wings can produce greater lift.  But larger wings also produce more drag.  Requiring additional thrust.  And fuel.  Or, we can produce greater lift by moving air over the wings faster.  Also requiring additional thrust.  And fuel.

Of course, the obvious drawback to increasing both thrust and lift is the added weight of the fuel.  The more fuel carried the more weight lift has to overcome.  Requiring more powerful engines.  Or bigger wings.  Both of which require more fuel.  This is why our first planes were small by today’s standards.  The thrust of a propeller engine could not produce enough thrust to travel at high speeds.  Or operate at high altitudes.  And the first wings were relatively fixed.  Having the same surface area to produce lift at takeoffs and landings.  As well as at cruising altitudes.  Big wings that allowed the lifting of heavier weights produced a lot of drag.  Requiring more fuel to overcome that drag.  And the added weight of that fuel limited the number of people and freight they could carry.  Or they could trade off that fuel for more revenue weight.  The smaller fuel load, of course, reduced flying times.  Requiring an additional takeoff and landing or two to refuel.

A Wing that produces sufficient Lift at 600 MPH does not produce sufficient Lift at Takeoff and Landing Speeds

The supersonic Concorde was basically a flying gas can.  It was more missile than plane.  To travel at those great speeds required a very small cross section to reduce drag.  Limiting the Concorde to about 100 revenue paying passengers.  Its delta wing performed well at supersonic flight but required a drooping nose so the pilot could see over it to land and takeoff due to the extreme nose pitched up attitude.  As Concorde approached supersonic speeds the center of pressure moved aft.  Placing the center of gravity forward of the center of pressure.  Causing the nose to pitch down.  You correct this with trim controls on slower flying aircraft.  But using this on Concorde would create additional drag.  So they trimmed Concorde by pumping the remaining fuel to other fuel tanks to move the center of gravity to the center of pressure.

They designed Concorde to fly fast.  Which came at a cost.  They can only carry 100 revenue paying passengers.  So they can only divide the fuel cost between those 100 passengers.  Whereas a Boeing 747 could seat anywhere around 500 passengers.  Which meant you could charge less per passenger ticket while still earning more revenue than on Concorde.  Which is why the Boeing 747 ruled the skies for decades.  While Concorde flies no more.  And the only serious competition for the Boeing 747 is the Airbus A380.  Which can carry even more revenue paying passengers.  How do they do this?  To fly greater amount of people and freight than both piston-engine and supersonic aircraft?  While being more profitable than both?  By making compromises between thrust and drag.  And lift and weight.

Jet engines can produce more thrust than piston engines.  And can operate at higher altitudes.  Allowing aircraft to take advantage of thinner air to produce less drag.  Achieving speeds approaching 600 mph.  Not Concorde speeds.  But faster than every other mode of travel.  To travel at those speeds, though, requires a cleaner wing.  Something closer to Concorde than, say, a DC-3.  Something thinner and flatter than earlier wings.  But a wing that produces lift at 600 mph does not produce enough lift at takeoff and landing speeds.

Planes need more Runway on Hot and Humid Days than they do on Cool and Dry Days

The other big development in air travel (the first being the jet engine) are wings that can change shape.  Wings you can configure to have more surface area and a greater curve for low-speed flying (greater lift but greater drag).  And configure to have less surface area and a lesser curve for high-speed flying (less lift but less drag).  We do this with leading-edge slats (wing extensions at the leading edge of the wing).  And trailing-edge flaps (wing extensions at the trailing edge of the wing).  When fully extended they increase the surface area of the wing.  And add curvature at the leading and trailing edge of the wing.  Creating the maximum amount of lift.  As well as the greatest amount of drag.  Allowing a wing to produce sufficient lift at takeoff speeds (about 200 mph).  Once airborne the plane continues to increase its speed.  As it does they retract the slats and flaps.  As the wing can produce sufficient lift at higher speeds without the slats and flaps extended.

But there are limits to what powerful jet engines and slats/flaps can do.  A wing produces lift by having a high pressure under the wing pushing up.  And a low pressure on top of the wing pulling it up.  The amount of air passing over/under the wing determines the amount of lift.  As does the density of that air.  The more dense the air the more lift.  The thinner the air the less lift.  Which is why planes need less runway on a cold winter’s day than on a hot and humid summer’s day.  If you watch a weather report you’ll notice that clear days are associated with a high pressure.  And storms are associated with a low pressure.  When a storm approaches meteorologists will note the barometer is falling.  Meaning the air is getting thinner.  When the air is thinner there are fewer air molecules to pass over the wing surface.  Which is why planes need more runway on hot and humid days.  To travel faster to produce the same amount of lift they can get at slower speeds on days cooler and dryer.

For the same reason planes taking off at higher elevations need more runway than they do at lower elevations.  Either that or they will have to reduce takeoff weight.  They don’t throw people or their baggage off of the airplane.  They just reduce the fuel load.  Of course, by reducing the fuel load a plane will not be able to reach its destination without landing and refueling.  Increasing costs (airport and fuel expenses for an additional takeoff and landing).  And increasing flying time.  Which hurts the economics of flying a plane like a Boeing 747.  A plane that can transport a lot of people over great distances at a low per-person cost.  Adding an additional takeoff and landing for refueling adds a lot of cost.  Reducing the profitability of that flight.  Not as bad as a normal Concorde flight.  But not as good as a normal Boeing 747 flight.

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Kerosene, Jet Fuel, Lockheed Constellation, Boeing 707, Boeing 747-400, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, Turbojet and Fan Jet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 3rd, 2012

Technology 101

The only way to make Flying Available to the General Public is to put as many People as Possible on an Airplane

Refined petroleum products have made our lives better.  We have gasoline to drive wherever we want.  We have diesel fuel to transport things on ships and trains like petroleum oil, iron ore, coal, food, medicine, smartphones, coffee, tea, wine, scotch whisky, bourbon whiskey, beer, fresh fish, sushi, etc.  Pretty much everything we buy at a store or a restaurant got there on something powered by diesel fuel.  And sometimes kerosene.  If it must travel fast.  And if it does then it finds itself on a jet aircraft.

Today aviation has shrunk the world.  We can order a new smartphone sitting on a shelf in California and have it the next day in New York.  We can even travel to distant countries.  Some in the time of a typical working day.  Some a half a day or longer.  When but a 100 years earlier it took a couple of weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  While 200 years ago it took a couple of months.  We can travel anywhere.  And get there quickly.  Thanks to the jumbo jet.  And not just the super-rich.  Pretty much anyone today can afford to buy a plane ticket to travel anywhere in the world.  And one thing makes this possible.  The jet engine.

Airplanes are expensive.  So are airports, air traffic control and jet fuel.  Airlines pay for all of these costs one passenger at a time.  Their largest cost is their fuel cost.  The longer the flight the greater the cost.  So the only way to make flying available to the general public is to put as many people as possible on an airplane.  Dividing the total flying cost by the number of passengers on the airplane.  This is why we fly on jumbo jets for these longer flights.  Because there are more people to split the total costs.  Lowering the cost per ticket.  Before the jet engine, though, it was a different story.

The Boeing 747-400 can take up to 660 Passengers some 7,260 Miles at a Speed of 567 MPH

One of the last intercontinental propeller-driven airplanes was the Lockheed Constellation.  A plane with four (4) Wright R-3350-DA3 Turbo Compound 18-cylinder supercharged radial engines putting out 3,250 horsepower each.  Which is a lot considering today’s typical 6-cyclinder automobile engine is lucky to get 300 horsepower.  No, the horsepower of one of these engines is about what one modern diesel-electric locomotive produces.  So these are big engines.  With a total power equal to about four locomotives lashed up.  Which is a lot of power.  And what does that power allow the Constellation do?  Not much by today’s standards.

In its day the Lockheed Constellation was a technological wonder.  It could take up to 109 passengers some 5,500 miles at a speed of 340 mph.  No bus or train could match this.  Not to mention it could fly over the water.  Then came the age of the jet.  The Boeing 707 being the first largely successful commercial jetliner.  Which could take up to 189 passengers some 6,160 miles at a speed of 607 mph.  That’s 73.4% more passengers, a 78.5% faster speed and a 14.1% longer range.  Which is an incredible improvement over the Constellation.  But nothing compared to the Boeing 747-400.  Which can take up to 660 passengers (506% more than the Constellation and 249% more than the 707) some 7,260 miles at a speed of 567 mph.

Now remember, fuel is the greatest cost of aviation.  So let’s assume that a intercontinental flight costs a total of $75,000 for each plane flying the same route.  Dividing that cost by the number of passengers you get a ticket price of approximately $688, $397 and $114 for the Constellation, the 707 and the 747-400, respectively.  So you can see the advantage of packing in as many passengers as possible into an airplane to lower the cost of flying.  Which is why the jumbo jets fly the longest routes that consume the most fuel.  And why we no longer fly propeller-driven aircraft except on short routes to airports with short runways.  These engines just don’t have the power to get a plane off the ground with enough people to reduce the cost of flying to a price most people could afford.  Only the jet engine has that kind of power.

The Fan Jet is basically a Turbojet with a Large Fan in front of the Compressor

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Think of a balloon you just blew up and are holding closed.  If you release your hold air will exit the balloon in one direction.  And the balloon will move in the opposite direction.  This is how a jet engine moves an aircraft.  Hot exhaust gases exit the engine in one direction.  Pushing the jet engine in the opposite direction.  And because the jet engines move the plane moves.  With the force of the jet engines transferred via their connection points to the aircraft.  The greater the speed of the gas exiting the jet the faster it will push a plane forward.

The jet engine gets that power from the continuous cycle of the jet engine.  Air enters one end, gets compressed, enters a combustion chamber, mixes with fuel (kerosene), ignites, expands rapidly and exits the other end.  The hot (3,632 degree Fahrenheit) and expanding gases pass through and spin a turbine.  Then exit the engine.  The turbine is connected to the compressor at the front of the engine.  So the exhaust gases spin the compressor that sucks air into the engine.  As the air passes through the compressor it compresses and heats up.  Then it enters the combustion chamber and joins fuel that is injected and burned continuously.  Sort of like pouring gas on a burning fire.  Only enormous amounts of compressed air and kerosene are poured onto a burning fire.  As this air-fuel mixture burns it rapidly expands.  And exits the combustion chamber faster than the air entered it.  And shoots a hot stream of jet gas out the tail pipe.  Which produces the loud noise of these turbojets.  This fast jet of air cuts through the surrounding air.  Resulting in a shear effect.  Which the next generation of jet engines, the fan jet, greatly reduces.

The fan jet is basically a turbojet with one additional feature.  A large fan in front of the compressor.  These are the big engines you see on the jumbo jets.  They add another turbine inside the jet that spins the fan at the front of the engine.  Which feeds some air into the compressor of what is basically a turbojet.  But a lot of the air this fan sucks in bypasses the turbojet core.  And blows directly out the back of the fan at high speed.  In fact, this bypass air provides about 75% of the total thrust of the fan jet.  Acting more like a propeller than a jet.  And as an added benefit this bypass air surrounds the faster exhaust of the jet thereby lessening the shear effect.  Making these larger engines pretty quiet.  In fact a DC-9, an MD-80, a 707 or a 727 with standard turbojets are much louder than a 747 with 4 fan jets at full power.  They’re quieter.  And they can push a lot more people through the air at incredible speeds over great distances at a reasonable price per passenger than any other aircraft engine.

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