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Aircraft Systems: Engine cooling and exhaust systems

A few weeks ago we started talking about how your engine stays cool while producing intense heat. We’ll follow up that post this week with more on an airplane’s cooling and exhaust systems. Check out the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge for more on this and other easy-to-read descriptions of need-to-know flying subjects.

While the oil system is vital to the internal cooling of the engine, an additional method of cooling is necessary for the engine’s external surface. Most small aircraft are air cooled. Air cooling is accomplished by air flowing into the engine compartment through openings in front of the engine cowling. Baffles route this air over fins attached to the engine cylinders, and other parts of the engine, where the air absorbs the engine heat. Expulsion of the hot air takes place through one or more openings in the lower, aft portion of the engine
cowling.

Outside air aids in cooling the engine.

Outside air aids in cooling the engine.

The outside air enters the engine compartment through an inlet behind the propeller hub. Baffles direct it to the hottest parts of the engine, primarily the cylinders, which have fins that increase the area exposed to the airflow.

The air cooling system is less effective during ground operations, takeoffs, go-arounds, and other periods of high power, low-airspeed operation. Conversely, high-speed descents provide excess air and can shock cool the engine, subjecting it to abrupt temperature fluctuations. Operating the engine at higher than its designed temperature can cause loss of power, excessive oil consumption, and detonation. It will also lead to serious permanent damage, such as scoring the cylinder walls, damaging the pistons and rings, and burning and warping the valves. Monitoring the flight deck engine temperature instruments will aid in avoiding high operating temperature.

To avoid excessive cylinder head temperatures, increase airspeed, enrich the mixture, and/or reduce power. Any of these procedures help to reduce the engine temperature. On aircraft equipped with cowl flaps, use the cowl flap positions to control the temperature. Cowl flaps are hinged covers that fit over the opening through which the hot air is expelled. If the engine temperature is low, the cowl flaps can be closed, thereby restricting the flow of expelled hot air and increasing engine temperature. If the engine temperature is high, the cowl flaps can be opened to permit a greater flow of air through the system, thereby decreasing the engine temperature.

Exhaust Systems
Engine exhaust systems vent the burned combustion gases overboard, provide heat for the cabin, and defrost the windscreen. An exhaust system has exhaust piping attached to the cylinders, as well as a muffler and a muffler shroud. The exhaust gases are pushed out of the cylinder through the exhaust valve and then through the exhaust pipe system to the atmosphere.

Exhaust gases contain large amounts of carbon monoxide, which is odorless and colorless. Carbon monoxide is deadly, and its presence is virtually impossible to detect. The exhaust system must be in good condition and free of cracks. Some exhaust systems have an EGT probe. This probe transmits the EGT to an instrument in the flight deck.

The EGT gauge measures the temperature of the gases at the exhaust manifold. This temperature varies with the ratio of fuel to air entering the cylinders and can be used as a basis for regulating the fuel/air mixture. The EGT gauge is highly accurate in indicating the correct mixture setting. When using the EGT to aid in leaning the fuel/air mixture, fuel consumption can be reduced. For specific procedures, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for leaning the mixture.

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