While the aviation industry is continuously seeking new ways to create the propulsion needed for flight, an overwhelming majority of currently operating aircraft rely on the combustion of fuel and air mixtures. In order to achieve optimal combustion properties for efficient flight operations, the proper amount of fuel and air must be measured and mixed together. While there are a number of systems that may provide for such needs, the carburetor is a device that commonly serves general aviation aircraft. For its basic operation, the carburetor ensures that intake air is properly measured and mixed with an optimal amount of fuel, providing the resulting mixture to the cylinder intake for combustion. To better understand why such devices are crucial for the flight capabilities of many aircraft, we will discuss their design and operations in more detail.
Across most aircraft, the most commonly used carburetor is the float-type variation. In such assemblies, an internal bowl is filled with fuel, and a float attached to a needle valve sits in the fluids. As fuel is directed into the carburetor with the use of a filtering strainer, fuel levels will increase. This results in the rise of the float and needle valve, those of which are connected to a lever. Once fuel levels reach a specific threshold, the float and needle valve will cause the lever to shut off flow to the bowl until fuel levels decrease again.
As air from the atmosphere is collected, it will enter the carburetor and flow through a venturi. The venturi is designed to speed up the flow of air, resulting in a pressure drop. With a nozzle situated in the low pressure section of the venturi and a connection to the fuel bowl, low pressure creates a vacuum which forces fuel to enter the stream of air. This also causes the fuel to vaporize as well, allowing for a more optimal mixture to be quickly made. Venturis can come in one- and two-piece types, the two-piece venturi exhibiting more optimal fuel atomizing while having an increased risk of loosening.
The nozzle suction pressure within the venturi is managed through the amount of airflow that is moving through the assembly, that of which is controlled with a throttle valve. From the cockpit, a pilot may use a throttle cable to manage the opening of the throttle valve, thus allowing them to assume control over the amount of air that enters the system. While the throttle cable may permit management over airflow, a carburetor mixture control is what dictates the amount of fuel that may mix with air. With the simultaneous operation of both controls, pilots may govern the fuel and air ratio of mixtures.
Although carburetors may be considered simplistic in operation and require little maintenance, they can still encounter various issues that may detract from performance or health. If fuel is left in an aircraft unused for long periods of time, the mixture can cause control seizing which requires disassembly for repair. Contamination is also a concern, often resulting from water that accumulates from the device being unused. Corrosion can cause the rusting of various parts, all of which can be highly detrimental. Additionally, carburetors will face standard wear and tear over time, thus they should be regularly inspected, cleaned, and maintained as necessary.
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