The fuel system is one of the more complex aspects of the gas turbine engine. It must be possible to increase or decrease the power at will to obtain the thrust required for any operating condition. In turbine-powered aircraft, this control is provided by varying the flow of fuel to the combustion chambers. However, some turboprop aircraft also use variable-pitch propellers; thus, the selection of thrust is shared by two controllable variables, fuel flow and propeller blade angle.
The quantity of fuel supplied must be adjusted automatically to correct for changes in ambient temperature or pressure. If the quantity of fuel becomes excessive in relation to mass airflow through the engine, the limiting temperature of the turbine blades can be exceeded, or it will produce compressor stall and a condition referred to as rich blowout. Rich blowout occurs when the amount of oxygen in the air supply is insufficient to support combustion and when the mixture is cooled below the combustion temperature by the excess fuel. The other extreme, lean flame-out, occurs if the fuel quantity is reduced proportionally below the air quantity. The engine must operate through acceleration and deceleration without any fuel-control-related problems.
The fuel system must deliver fuel to the combustion chambers not only in the right quantity, but also in the right condition for satisfactory combustion. The fuel nozzles form part of the fuel system and atomize or vaporize the fuel so that it ignites and burns efficiently. The fuel system must also supply fuel so that the engine can be easily started on the ground and in the air. This means that the fuel must be injected into the combustion chambers in a combustible condition during engine starting, and that combustion must be sustained while the engine is accelerating to its normal idling speed. Another critical condition to which the fuel system must respond occurs during a rapid acceleration. When the engine is accelerated, energy must be furnished to the turbine in excess of that necessary to maintain a constant rpm. However, if the fuel flow increases too rapidly, an over rich mixture can be produced, with the possibility of a rich blowout or compressor stall.
Turbofan, turbojet, turboshaft, and turboprop engines are equipped with a fuel control unit which automatically satisfies the requirements of the engine. Although the basic requirements apply generally to all gas turbine engines, the way in which individual fuel controls meet these needs cannot be conveniently generalized.
Turbine Fuel Controls
Gas turbine engine fuel controls can be divided into three basic groups:
- Full Authority Digital Engine (or Electronics) Control (FADEC)
The hydromechanical/electronic fuel control is a hybrid of the two types of fuel control, but can function solely as a hydromechanical control. In the dual mode, inputs and outputs are electronic, and fuel flow is set by servo motors. The third type, FADEC, uses electronic sensors for its inputs and controls fuel flow with electronic outputs. The FADEC-type control gives the electronic controller (computer) complete control. The computing section of the FADEC system depends completely on sensor inputs to the electronic engine control (EEC) to meter the fuel flow. The fuel metering device meters the fuel using only outputs from the EEC. Most turbine fuel controls are quickly going to the FADEC type of control. This electronically controlled fuel control is very accurate in scheduling fuel by sensing many of the engine parameters.
Regardless of the type, all fuel controls accomplish essentially the same function. That function is to schedule the fuel flow to match the power required by the pilot. Some sense more engine variables than others. The fuel control can sense many different inputs, such as power lever position, engine rpm for each spool, compressor inlet pressure and temperature, burner pressure, compressor discharge pressure, and many more parameters as needed by the specific engine. These variables affect the amount of thrust that an engine produces for a given fuel flow. By sensing these parameters, the fuel control has a clear picture of what is happening in the engine and can adjust fuel flow as needed. Each type of turbine engine has its own specific needs for fuel delivery and control.