Aircraft Gas Turbine Engine Starters

Gas turbine engines are started by rotating the high-pressure compressor. On dual-spool, axial flow engines, the high pressure compressor and N1 turbine system is only rotated by the starter. To start a gas turbine engine, it is necessary to accelerate the compressor to provide sufficient air to support combustion in the combustion section, or burners. Once ignition and fuel has been introduced and the lite-off has occurred, the starter must continue to assist the engine until the engine reaches a self sustaining speed. The torque supplied by the starter must be in excess of the torque required to overcome compressor inertia and the friction loads of the engine’s compressor. Figure 1 illustrates a typical starting sequence for a gas turbine engine, regardless of the type of starter employed.

Aircraft Gas Turbine Engine Starters
Figure 1. Typical gas turbine engine starting sequence

As soon as the starter has accelerated the compressor sufficiently to establish airflow through the engine, the ignition is turned on followed by the fuel. The exact sequence of the starting procedure is important since there must be sufficient airflow through the engine to support combustion before the fuel-air mixture is ignited.

At low engine cranking speeds, the fuel flow rate is not sufficient to enable the engine to accelerate; for this reason, the starter continues to crank the engine until after self-accelerating speed has been attained. If assistance from the starter were cut off below the self-accelerating speed, the engine would either fail to accelerate to idle speed or might even decelerate because it could not produce sufficient energy to sustain rotation or to accelerate during the initial phase of the starting cycle. The starter must continue to assist the engine considerably above the self-accelerating speed to avoid a delay in the starting cycle, which would result in a hot or hung false start or a combination of both. At the proper points in the sequence, the starter and ignition are automatically cut off. The basic types of starters that are in current use for gas turbine engines are direct current (DC) electric motor, starter/generators, and the air turbine type of starters.
Many types of turbine starters have included several different methods for turning the engine for starting. Several methods have been used but most of these have given way to electric or air turbine starters. An air impingement starting system, which is sometimes used on small engines, consists of jets of compressed air piped to the inside of the compressor or turbine case so that the jet air blast is directed onto the compressor or turbine rotor blades, causing them to rotate.

A typical cartridge/pneumatic turbine engine starter may be operated as an ordinary air turbine starter from a ground operated air supply or an engine cross-bleed source. It may also be operated as a cartridge starter. [Figure 2]

Aircraft Gas Turbine Engine Starters
Figure 2. Cartridge/pneumatic starter schematic

To accomplish a cartridge start, a cartridge is first placed in the breech cap. The breech is then closed on the breech chamber by means of the breech handle and then rotated a partial turn to engage the lugs between the two breech sections. The cartridge is ignited by applying voltage through the connector at the end of the breech handle. Upon ignition, the cartridge begins to generate gas. The gas is forced out of the breech to the hot gas nozzles that are directed toward the buckets on the turbine rotor, and rotation is produced via the overboard exhaust collector. Before reaching the nozzle, the hot gas passes an outlet leading to the relief valve. This valve directs hot gas to the turbine, bypassing the hot gas nozzle, as the pressure rises above the preset maximum. Thus, the pressure of the gas within the hot gas circuit is maintained at the optimum level.

The fuel/air combustion starter was used to start gas turbine engines by using the combustion energy of jet A fuel and compressed air. The starter consists of a turbine-driven power unit and auxiliary fuel, air, and ignition systems. Operation of this type starter is, in most installations, fully automatic; actuation of a single switch causes the starter to fire and accelerate the engine from rest to starter cutoff speed.

Hydraulic pumps and motors have also been used for some smaller engines. Many of these systems are not often used on modern commercial aircraft because of the high power demands required to turn the large turbofan engines during the starting cycle on transport aircraft.