The Importance of Aircraft Engine Lubrication and Cooling Systems

Improper lubrication in a rotating shaft for a pump or fan can result in systemic failure. Now, imagine the importance lubrication may have for a larger application like an aircraft engine. The primary purpose of using a lubricant is to reduce friction between moving parts. In an engine, lubricants have multiple functions. Lubricants play a role in engine cooling, sealing and cushioning moving parts, cleaning the interior of the engine, and protecting against the deterioration of materials. Similarly, aircraft engine cooling systems protect the engine from excessive heat damage by using a liquid coolant to dissipate heat and provide air flow. In this blog, we will be covering the importance of aircraft engine lubrication and cooling systems, their unique features, and advantages.

Most engines require a lubricant that can circulate freely, so oils are the optimal choice for these applications. A reciprocating engine lubrication system facilitates the distribution of oil to the internal components of the engine by using a pressure, splash, or spray lubrication method. To ensure that the lubricant is evenly distributed in reciprocating engines, a combination of pressure and splash lubrication is utilized. On much larger engines, a combination of all three is required.

For turbine engines, oil is delivered to the internal moving parts to reduce friction and dissipate heat. These kinds of engines use pressure to lubricate all the necessary components. For reciprocating engines, the internal moving parts splash oil around the engine, whereas the moving parts of a turbine engine rotate on bearings. Moreover, turbine engines operate under higher temperatures, which requires the lubrication system to carry more heat away from the system. For this reason, oil circulates through a turbine engine at a high flow rate.

Because aircraft engines are consistently converting heat energy into mechanical energy, only a portion of the energy is utilized and the other fraction must be removed. One way to remove the unused heat is by utilizing a cooling system. Of the heat that is generated in an internal combustion engine, about 30 percent is used, 40-45 percent is removed through the exhaust, and the lingering 25-30 percent is absorbed by the oil and metal mass of the engine. The cooling system is responsible for removing this latter fraction of heat.

Without cooling, the unused heat shortens the lifespan of engine parts, volumetric efficiency decreases, and the lubricating properties of the oil are lessened. There are two methods for cooling an engine, direct air cooling and liquid cooling. A liquid cooled engine produces more power and maintains a consistent temperature throughout the engine while an air cooled engine is more fuel efficient, cost-effective, and requires less engine space. Similar to reciprocating engines, turbine engines convert heat energy into work. In some cases, this process produces more heat, so a majority of the cooling air flows through the inside of the engine. Without cooling, internal engine temperatures can surpass 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

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