Reciprocating Engine Carburetion Principles

Venturi Principles

The carburetor must measure the airflow through the induction system and use this measurement to regulate the amount of fuel discharged into the airstream. The air measuring unit is the venturi, which makes use of a basic law of physics: as the velocity of a gas or liquid increases, the pressure decreases. As shown in Figure 1, simple venturi is a passageway or tube in which there is a narrow portion called the throat. As the velocity of the air increases to get through the narrow portion, its pressure drops. Note that the pressure in the throat is lower than that in any other part of the venturi. This pressure drop is proportional to the velocity and is, therefore, a measure of the airflow. The basic operating principle of most carburetors depends on the differential pressure between the inlet and the venturi throat.

Reciprocating engine carburetion principles
Figure 1. Simple venturi

Application of Venturi Principle to Carburetor

The carburetor is mounted on the engine so that air to the cylinders passes through the barrel, the part of the carburetor which contains the venturi. The size and shape of the venturi depends on the requirements of the engine for which the carburetor is designed. A carburetor for a high-powered engine may have one large venturi or several small ones. The air may flow either up or down the venturi, depending on the design of the engine and the carburetor. Those in which the air passes downward are known as downdraft carburetors, and those in which the air passes upward are called updraft carburetors. Some carburetors are made to use a side draft or horizontal air entry into the engine induction system, as shown in Figure 2.

Reciprocating engine carburetion principles
Figure 2. Side draft horizontal flow carburetor

Air flows through the induction system covered in Engine Induction and Exhaust Systems section. When a piston moves toward the crankshaft (down) on the intake stroke, the pressure in the cylinder is lowered.

Air rushes through the carburetor and intake manifold to the cylinder to replace the air displaced by the piston as it moved down on the intake stroke. Due to this low pressure area caused by the piston moving down, the higher pressure air in the atmosphere flows in to fill the low pressure area. As it does, the airflow must pass through the carburetor venturi. The throttle valve is located between the venturi and the engine. Mechanical linkage connects this valve with the throttle lever in the cockpit. By means of the throttle, airflow to the cylinders is regulated and controls the power output of the engine. Actually, more air is admitted to the engine, and the carburetor automatically supplies enough additional gasoline to maintain the correct fuel/air ratio. This is because as the volume of airflow increases, the velocity in the venturi increases, lowering the pressure and allowing more fuel to be forced into the airstream. The throttle valve obstructs the passage of air very little when it is parallel with the flow, in the wide open throttle position. Throttle action is illustrated in Figure 3. Note how it restricts the airflow more and more as it rotates toward the closed position.

Reciprocating engine carburetion principles
Figure 3. Wide open throttle position

Metering and Discharge of Fuel

In Figure 4, showing the discharge of fuel into the airstream, locate the inlet through which fuel enters the carburetor from the engine-driven pump. The float-operated needle valve regulates the flow through the inlet, which maintains the correct level in the fuel float chamber. [Figures 5 and 6] This level must be slightly below the outlet of the discharge nozzle to prevent overflow when the engine is not running The discharge nozzle is located in the throat of the venturi at the point where the lowest drop in pressure occurs as air passes through the carburetor to the engine cylinders. There are two different pressures acting on the fuel in the carburetor—a low pressure at the discharge nozzle and a higher (atmospheric) pressure in the float chamber. The higher pressure in the float chamber forces the fuel through the discharge nozzle into the airstream. If the throttle is opened wider to increase the airflow to the engine, there is a greater drop in pressure at the venturi throat. Because of the higher differential pressure, the fuel discharge increases in proportion to the increase in airflow. If the throttle is moved toward the “closed” position, the airflow and fuel flow decrease.

Aircraft Reciprocating engine carburetion principles
Figure 4. Fuel discharge

Reciprocating engine carburetion principles
Figure 5. Needle valve and seat

Reciprocating engine carburetion principles
Figure 6. Float chamber discharge nozzle and float

The fuel must pass through the metering jet to reach the discharge nozzle. [Figure 4] A metering jet is really a certain size hole that the fuel passes through. The size of this jet determines the rate of fuel discharge at each differential pressure. If the jet is replaced with a larger one, the fuel flow increases, resulting in a richer mixture. If a smaller jet is installed, there is a decrease in fuel flow and a leaner mixture.