Requirements for Turbine Engine Lubricants

There are many requirements for turbine engine lubricating oils. Due to the absence of reciprocating motion and the presence of ball and roller bearings (antifriction bearings), the turbine engine uses a less viscous lubricant. Gas turbine engine oil must have a high viscosity for good load-carrying ability but must also be of sufficiently low viscosity to provide good flowability. It must also be of low volatility to prevent loss by evaporation at the high altitudes at which the engines operate. In addition, the oil should not foam and should be essentially nondestructive to natural or synthetic rubber seals in the lubricating system. Also, with high-speed antifriction bearings, the formation of carbons or varnishes must be held to a minimum. Synthetic oil for turbine engines are usually supplied in sealed one-quart cans.

The many requirements for lubricating oils are met in the synthetic oils developed specifically for turbine engines. Synthetic oil has two principal advantages over petroleum oil. It has a lower tendency to deposit lacquer and coke (solids left after solvents have been evaporated) because it does not evaporate the solvents from the oil at high temperature. Oil grades used in some turbine engines normally contain thermal and oxidation preventives, load-carrying additives, and substances that lower the pour point in addition to synthetic chemical-base materials. MIL-L-7808, which is a military specification for turbine oil, was type I turbine oil. Turbine synthetic oil has a viscosity of around 5 to 5.5 centistokes at 210º F that is approved against the military specification MIL-PRF-23699F. This oil is referred to as type II turbine oil. Most turbine oils meet this type II specification and are made with the following characteristics:
  1. Vapor phase deposits—carbon deposits formed from oil mist and vapor contact with hot engine surfaces.
  2. Load-carrying ability—provides for heavy loads on the bearing systems of turbine engines.
  3. Cleanliness—minimum formation of sludge deposits during severe operation.
  4. Bulk stability—resistance to physical or chemical change resulting from oxidation. Permits long periods of serve operation without significant increase in viscosity or total acidity, the main indicators of oxidation.
  5. Compatibility—most turbine oil is compatible with other oils that meet the same military specification. But, most engine manufacturers do not recommend the indiscriminate mixing of approved oil brands and this is not a generally accepted practice.
  6. Seal Wear—essential for the life of engines with carbon seals that lubricant properties prevent wear of the carbon at the carbon seal face.

Turbine Oil Health and Safety Precautions

Under normal conditions, the use of turbine oil presents a low health risk for humans. Although each person reacts somewhat differently to exposure, contact with liquids, vapors, and mist of turbine oil should be minimized. Information on established limits on exposure to turbine oil can generally be found in the material safety data sheets (MSDS). Prolonged breathing of hydrocarbon vapor concentrations in excess of the prescribed limits may result in lightheadedness, dizziness, and nausea. If turbine oil is ingested, call a doctor immediately; identify the product and how much was ingested. Because of the risk of ingestion, petroleum products should never be siphoned by mouth.

Prolonged or repeated contact of turbine oil with the skin can cause irritation and dermatitis. In case of skin contact, wash the skin thoroughly with soap and warm water. Promptly remove oil-soaked clothing and wash. If turbine oil contacts the eyes, flush the eyes with fresh water until the irritation subsides. Protective clothing, gloves, and eye protection should be used when handling turbine oil.

During operation, it is possible for the oil to be subjected to very high temperatures that can break down the oil and produce a product of unknown toxicity. If this happens, all precautions to avoid explosive should be taken. It can also have a tendency to blister, discolor, or remove paint whenever it is spilled. Painted surfaces should be wiped clean with a petroleum solvent after spillage.

Spectrometric Oil Analysis Program

The Spectrometric Oil Analysis Program allows an oil sample to be analyzed and searched for the presence of minute metallic elements. Due to oil circulation throughout an aircraft engine, every lubricant that is in service contains microscopic particles of metallic elements called wear metals. As the engine operates over time, the oil picks up very small particles that stay suspended in the oil. Oil analysis programs identify and measure these particles in parts per million (PPM) by weight. The analyzed elements are grouped into categories, such as wear metals and additives, and their measurement in PPM provides data that expert analysts can use as one of many tools to determine the engine’s condition. An increase in PPM of certain materials can be a sign of component wear or impending failure of the engine. When you take a sample, note and record the amount of wear metals. If the amount of wear metals increases beyond a normal rate, then the operator can be notified quickly so repair or a recommend specific maintenance procedure or inspection can be ordered.

Oil analysis increases safety by identifying an engine problem before engine failure. It also saves money by finding engine problems before they become large problems or complete engine failure. This procedure can be used for both turbine and reciprocating engines.

Typical Wear Metals and Additives

The following examples of wear metals are associated with areas of the engine that could be lead to their source. Identifying the metal can help identify the engine components that are wearing or failing.
  • Iron—wear from rings, shafts, gears, valve train, cylinder walls, and pistons in some engines.
  • Chromium—primary sources are chromed parts (such as rings, liners, etc.) and some coolant additives.
  • Nickel—secondary indicator of wear from certain types of bearings, shafts, valves, and valve guides.
  • Aluminum—indicates wear of pistons, rod bearings, and certain types of bushings.
  • Lead—mostly from tetraethyl lead contamination.
  • Copper—wear from bearings, rocker arm bushings, wrist pin bushings, thrust washers, and other bronze or brass parts, and oil additive or antiseize compound.
  • Tin—wear from bearings.
  • Silver—wear of bearings that contain silver and, in some instances, a secondary indicator of oil cooler problems.
  • Titanium—alloy in high-quality steel for gears and bearings.
  • Molybdenum—gear or ring wear and used as an additive in some oils.
  • Phosphorous—antirust agents, spark plugs, and combustion chamber deposits.