Aircraft Reciprocating Engine Carburetor Types and Icing

Carburetor Types

The float-type carburetor, the most common of all carburetor types, has several distinct disadvantages. The effect that abrupt maneuvers have on the float action and the fact that its fuel must be discharged at low pressure leads to incomplete vaporization and difficulty in discharging fuel into some types of supercharged systems. The chief disadvantage of the float carburetor, however, is its icing tendency. Since the float carburetor must discharge fuel at a point of low pressure, the discharge nozzle must be located at the venturi throat, and the throttle valve must be on the engine side of the discharge nozzle. This means that the drop in temperature due to fuel vaporization takes place within the venturi. As a result, ice readily forms in the venturi and on the throttle valve.

A pressure-type carburetor discharges fuel into the airstream at a pressure well above atmospheric. This results in better vaporization and permits the discharge of fuel into the airstream on the engine side of the throttle valve. With the discharge nozzle located at this point, the drop in temperature due to fuel vaporization takes place after the air has passed the throttle valve and at a point where engine heat tends to offset it. Thus, the danger of fuel vaporization icing is practically eliminated. The effects of rapid maneuvers and rough air on the pressure-type carburetors are negligible since its fuel chambers remain filled under all operating conditions. Pressure carburetors have been replaced mostly by fuel injection systems and have limited use on modern aircraft engines.

Carburetor Icing

There are three general classifications of carburetor icing:
  1. Fuel evaporation ice
  2. Throttle ice
  3. Impact ice

Fuel evaporation ice or refrigeration ice is formed because of the decrease in air temperature resulting from the evaporation of fuel after it is introduced into the airstream. As the fuel evaporates, the temperature is lowered in the area where the evaporation takes place. Any moisture in the incoming air can form ice in this area. It frequently occurs in those systems in which fuel is injected into the air upstream from the carburetor throttle, as in the case of float-type carburetors. It occurs less frequently in systems in which the fuel is injected into the air downstream from the carburetor. Refrigeration ice can be formed at carburetor air temperatures as high as 100 °F over a wide range of atmospheric humidity conditions, even at relative humidity well below 100 percent. Generally, fuel evaporation ice tends to accumulate on the fuel distribution nozzle in the carburetor. This type of ice can lower manifold pressure, interfere with fuel flow, and affect mixture distribution.

Throttle ice is formed on the rear side of the throttle, usually when the throttle is in a partially “closed” position. The rush of air across and around the throttle valve causes a low pressure on the rear side; this sets up a pressure differential across the throttle, which has a cooling effect on the fuel/air charge. Moisture freezes in this low pressure area and collects as ice on the low pressure side. Throttle ice tends to accumulate in a restricted passage. The occurrence of a small amount of ice may cause a relatively large reduction in airflow and manifold pressure. A large accumulation of ice may jam the throttles and cause them to become inoperable. Throttle ice seldom occurs at temperatures above 38 °F.

Impact ice is formed either from water present in the atmosphere as snow, sleet, or from liquid water which impinges on surfaces that are at temperatures below 32 °F. Because of inertia effects, impact ice collects on or near a surface that changes the direction of the airflow. This type of ice may build up on the carburetor elbow, as well as the carburetor screen and metering elements. The most dangerous impact ice is that which collects on the carburetor screen and causes a very rapid reduction of airflow and power. In general, danger from impact ice normally exists only when ice forms on the leading edges of the aircraft structure. Under some conditions, ice may enter the carburetor in a comparatively dry state and will not adhere to the inlet screen or walls or affect engine airflow or manifold pressure. This ice may enter the carburetor and gradually build up internally in the carburetor air metering passages and affect carburetor metering characteristics.