Reciprocating Engine Power and Efficiencies (Part Two)

in Aircraft Engines

Compression Ratio

All internal combustion engines must compress the fuel/air mixture to receive a reasonable amount of work from each power stroke. The fuel/air charge in the cylinder can be compared to a coil spring in that the more it is compressed, the more work it is potentially capable of doing.

The compression ratio of an engine is a comparison of the volume of space in a cylinder when the piston is at the bottom of the stroke to the volume of space when the piston is at the top of the stroke. [Figure 1-38] This comparison is expressed as a ratio, hence the term compression ratio. Compression ratio is a controlling factor in the maximum horsepower developed by an engine, but it is limited by present day fuel grades and the high engine speeds and manifold pressures required for takeoff. For example, if there are 140 cubic inches of space in the cylinder when the piston is at the bottom and there are 20 cubic inches of space when the piston is at the top of the stroke, the compression ratio would be 140 to 20. If this ratio is expressed in fraction form, it would be 140/20 or 7 to 1, usually represented as 7:1.

Figure 1-38. Compression ratio.

Figure 1-38. Compression ratio.

The limitations placed on compression ratios, manifold pressure, and the manifold pressure’s effect on compression pressures has a major effect on engine operation. Manifold pressure is the average absolute pressure of the air or fuel/ air charge in the intake manifold and is measured in units of inches of mercury (“Hg). Manifold pressure is dependent on engine speed (throttle setting) and the degree supercharging. The operation of the supercharger increases the weight of the charge entering the cylinder. When a true supercharger is used with the aircraft engine, the manifold pressure may be considerably higher than the pressure of the outside atmosphere. The advantage of this condition is that a greater amount of charge is forced into a given cylinder volume, and a greater output of horsepower results.

Compression ratio and manifold pressure determine the pressure in the cylinder in that portion of the operating cycle when both valves are closed. The pressure of the charge before compression is determined by manifold pressure, while the pressure at the height of compression (just prior to ignition) is determined by manifold pressure times the compression ratio. For example, if an engine were operating at a manifold pressure of 30 “Hg with a compression ratio of 7:1, the pressure at the instant before ignition would be approximately 210 “Hg. However, at a manifold pressure of 60 “Hg, the pressure would be 420 “Hg.

Without going into great detail, it has been shown that the compression event magnifies the effect of varying the manifold pressure, and the magnitude of both affects the pressure of the fuel charge just before the instant of ignition. If the pressure at this time becomes too high, pre-ignition or detonation occur and produce overheating. Pre-ignition is when the fuel air charge starts to burn before the spark plug fires. Detonation occurs when the fuel air charge is ignited by the spark plug, but instead of burning at a controlled rate, it explodes causing cylinder temperatures and pressures to spike very quickly. If this condition exists for very long, the engine can be damaged or destroyed.

One of the reasons for using engines with high compression ratios is to obtain long-range fuel economy, to convert more heat energy into useful work than is done in engines of low compression ratio. Since more heat of the charge is converted into useful work, less heat is absorbed by the cylinder walls. This factor promotes cooler engine operation, which in turn increases the thermal efficiency. Here again, a compromise is needed between the demand for fuel economy and the demand for maximum horsepower without detonation. Some manufacturers of high compression engines suppress detonation at high manifold pressures by using high octane fuel and limiting maximum manifold pressure.

Indicated Horsepower

The indicated horsepower produced by an engine is the horsepower calculated from the indicated mean effective pressure and the other factors which affect the power output of an engine. Indicated horsepower is the power developed in the combustion chambers without reference to friction losses within the engine. This horsepower is calculated as a function of the actual cylinder pressure recorded during engine operation.

To facilitate the indicated horsepower calculations, a mechanical indicating device, such as is attached to the engine cylinder scribes the actual pressure existing in the cylinder during the complete operating cycle. This pressure variation can be represented by the kind of graph shown in Figure 1-39. Notice that the cylinder pressure rises on the compression stroke, reaches a peak after top center, and decreases as the piston moves down on the power stroke. Since the cylinder pressure varies during the operating cycle, an average pressure (line AB) is computed. This average pressure, if applied steadily during the time of the power stroke, would do the same amount of work as the varying pressure during the same period. This average pressure is known as indicated mean effective pressure and is included in the indicated horsepower calculation with other engine specifications. If the characteristics and the indicated mean effective pressure of an engine are known, it is possible to calculate the indicated horsepower rating.

Figure 1-39. Compression ratio.

Figure 1-39. Compression ratio.

The indicated horsepower for a four-stroke cycle engine can be calculated from the following formula, in which the letter symbols in the numerator are arranged to spell the word “PLANK” to assist in memorizing the formula:



P = Indicated mean effective pressure, in psi
L = Length of the stroke, in feet or in fractions of a foot
A = Area of the piston head or cross-sectional area of the cylinder, in square inches
N = Number of power strokes per minute: rpm/2
K = Number of cylinders

In the formula above, the area of the piston multiplied by the indicated mean effective pressure gives the force acting on the piston in pounds. This force multiplied by the length of the stroke in feet gives the work performed in one power stroke, which, multiplied by the number of power strokes per minute, gives the number of ft-lb per minute of work produced by one cylinder. Multiplying this result by the number of cylinders in the engine gives the amount of work performed, in ft-lb, by the engine. Since hp is defined as work done at the rate of 33,000 ft-lb per minute, the total number of ft-lb of work performed by the engine is divided by 33,000 to find the indicated horsepower.