Centrifugal and Axial Air Compressors

Almost all modern turbine engine aircraft incorporate air compressors in their systems. Turbine engines use an air compressor to increase the pressure of incoming air before it enters the combustor. There are two types of air compressor used in aviation, axial and centrifugal.

Axial flow compressors are most commonly used in large turbojet and turbofan engines. It is more utilized by aircraft equipped with these engines because of its structure and its capacity to be constructed in a multi-stage system. An axial compressor relies on the functionality of rotors and stators to manipulate air flow as it travels parallel to the axis of rotation. Incoming air flows through blades that are attached to the central shaft (rotors) which increase its velocity and pressure. Simultaneously, the air flows through stationary fixed blades, or stator blades. The stationary blades are fastened to an outer casing, and act as a diffuser, slowing the air flow down. This entire unit is connected to a shaft which unites the compressor with the power turbine.

A single air compressor like the one described above has the capacity to be linked together in a series of axial compressors to create a multistage axial compressor system. This configuration allows air pressurization to increase considerably. Most turbojet and turbofan engines use this compressor because of this capability.

Centrifugal compressors have an airflow that is perpendicular to the axis of rotation. These systems feature an airfoil as well but rely on an impeller and a diffuser. An impeller rotates and adds velocity the air flow passing through it. A diffuser surrounds the impeller. It has small air channels that direct air away from the impeller reducing velocity and converting it to high pressurized air. Because of their construction, a multi-stage centrifugal air compressor is not feasible. Their use of perpendicular air flow causes the structure of a centrifugal compressor to be wider than an axial unit, which increases aircraft drag. As a result, these air compressors are primarily seen in turboprop engines and small aircraft.


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