Turbine Section - Aircraft Gas Turbine Engine

The turbine transforms a portion of the kinetic (velocity) energy of the exhaust gases into mechanical energy to drive the gas generator compressor and accessories. The sole purpose of the gas generator turbine is to absorb approximately 60 to 70 percent of the total pressure energy from the exhaust gases. The exact amount of energy absorption at the turbine is determined by the load the turbine is driving (i.e., compressor size and type, number of accessories, and the load applied by the other turbine stages). These turbine stages can be used to drive a low-pressure compressor (fan), propeller, and shaft. The turbine section of a gas turbine engine is located aft, or downstream, of the combustion chamber. Specifically, it is directly behind the combustion chamber outlet. 

The turbine assembly consists of two basic elements: turbine inlet guide vanes and turbine blades. [Figures 1 and 2] The stator element is known by a variety of names, of which turbine inlet nozzle vanes, turbine inlet guide vanes, and nozzle diaphragm are three of the most commonly used. The turbine inlet nozzle vanes are located directly aft of the combustion chambers and immediately forward of the turbine wheel. This is the highest or hottest temperature that comes in contact with metal components in the engine. The turbine inlet temperature must be controlled or damage will occur to the turbine inlet vanes.

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Figure 1. Turbine inlet guide vanes

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Figure 2. Turbine blades

After the combustion chamber has introduced the heat energy into the mass airflow and delivered it evenly to the turbine inlet nozzles, the nozzles must prepare the mass air flow to drive the turbine rotor. The stationary vanes of the turbine inlet nozzles are contoured and set at such an angle that they form a number of small nozzles discharging gas at extremely high speed; thus, the nozzle converts a varying portion of the heat and pressure energy to velocity energy that can then be converted to mechanical energy through the turbine blades.

The second purpose of the turbine inlet nozzle is to deflect the gases to a specific angle in the direction of turbine wheel rotation. Since the gas flow from the nozzle must enter the turbine blade passageway while it is still rotating, it is essential to aim the gas in the general direction of turbine rotation.

The turbine inlet nozzle assembly consists of an inner shroud and an outer shroud between which the nozzle vanes are fixed. The number and size of inlet vanes employed vary with different types and sizes of engines. Figure 3 illustrates typical turbine inlet nozzles featuring loose and welded vanes. The vanes of the turbine inlet nozzle may be assembled between the outer and inner shrouds or rings in a variety of ways. Although the actual elements may vary slightly in configuration and construction features, there is one characteristic peculiar to all turbine inlet nozzles: the nozzle vanes must be constructed to allow thermal expansion. Otherwise, there would be severe distortion or warping of the metal components because of rapid temperature changes. The thermal expansion of turbine nozzles is accomplished by one of several methods. One method necessitates loose assembly of the supporting inner and outer vane shrouds. [Figure 3-A]

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Figure 3. Typical turbine nozzle vane assemblies

Each vane fits into a contoured slot in the shrouds, which conforms to the airfoil shape of the vane. These slots are slightly larger than the vanes to give a loose fit. For further support, the inner and outer shrouds are encased by inner and outer support rings, which provide increased strength and rigidity. These support rings also facilitate removal of the nozzle vanes as a unit. Without the rings, the vanes could fall out as the shrouds were removed.

Another method of thermal expansion construction is to fit the vanes into inner and outer shrouds; however, in this method the vanes are welded or riveted into position. Some means must be provided to allow thermal expansion; therefore, either the inner or the outer shroud ring is cut into segments. The saw cuts separating the segments allow sufficient expansion to prevent stress and warping of the vanes.

The rotor element of the turbine section consists essentially of a shaft and a wheel. [Figure 4] The turbine wheel is a dynamically balanced unit consisting of blades attached to a rotating disk. The disk, in turn, is attached to the main power-transmitting shaft of the engine. The exhaust gases leaving the turbine inlet nozzle vanes act on the blades of the turbine wheel, causing the assembly to rotate at a very high rate of speed. The high rotational speed imposes severe centrifugal loads on the turbine wheel, and at the same time the elevated temperatures result in a lowering of the strength of the material. Consequently, the engine speed and temperature must be controlled to keep turbine operation within safe limits.

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Figure 4. Rotor elements of the turbine assembly

The turbine disk is referred to as such without blades. When the turbine blades are installed, the disk then becomes the turbine wheel. The disk acts as an anchoring component for the turbine blades. Since the disk is bolted or welded to the shaft, the blades can transmit to the rotor shaft the energy they extract from the exhaust gases.

The disk rim is exposed to the hot gases passing through the blades and absorbs considerable heat from these gases. In addition, the rim also absorbs heat from the turbine blades by conduction. Hence, disk rim temperatures are normally high and well above the temperatures of the more remote inner portion of the disk. As a result of these temperature gradients, thermal stresses are added to the rotational stresses. There are various methods to relieve, at least partially, the aforementioned stresses. One such method is to bleed cooling air back onto the face of the disk.

Another method of relieving the thermal stresses of the disk is incidental to blade installation. A series of grooves or notches, conforming to the blade root design, are broached in the rim of the disk. These grooves allow attachment of the turbine blades to the disk; at the same time, space is provided by the notches for thermal expansion of the disk. Sufficient clearance exists between the blade root and the notch to permit movement of the turbine blade when the disk is cold. During engine operation, expansion of the disk decreases the clearance. This causes the blade root to fit tightly in the disk rim.

The turbine shaft is usually fabricated from alloy steel. [Figure 4] It must be capable of absorbing the high torque loads that are exerted on it.

The methods of connecting the shaft to the turbine disk vary. In one method, the shaft is welded to the disk, which has a butt or protrusion provided for the joint. Another method is by bolting. This method requires that the shaft have a hub that fits a machined surface on the disk face. Then, the bolts are inserted through holes in the shaft hub and anchored in tapped holes in the disk. Of the two connection methods, bolting is more common.

The turbine shaft must have some means for attachment to the compressor rotor hub. This is usually accomplished by a spline cut on the forward end of the shaft. The spline fits into a coupling device between the compressor and turbine shafts. If a coupling is not used, the splined end of the turbine shaft may fit into a splined recess in the compressor rotor hub. This splined coupling arrangement is used almost exclusively with centrifugal compressor engines, while axial compressor engines may use either of these described methods.

There are various ways of attaching turbine blades, some similar to compressor blade attachment. The most satisfactory method utilizes the fir-tree design. [Figure 5]

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Figure 5. Turbine blade with fir-tree design and lock-tab method of blade retention

The blades are retained in their respective grooves by a variety of methods, the more common of which are peening, welding, lock tabs, and riveting. Figure 6 shows a typical turbine wheel using rivets for blade retention.

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Figure 6. Rivet method of turbine blade retention

The peening method of blade retention is used frequently in various ways. One of the most common applications of peening requires a small notch to be ground in the edge of the blade fir-tree root prior to the blade installation. After the blade is inserted into the disk, the notch is filled by the disk metal, which is “flowed” into it by a small punch-mark made in the disk adjacent to the notch. The tool used for this job is similar to a center punch.

Another method of blade retention is to construct the root of the blade so that it contains all the elements necessary for its retention. This method uses the blade root as a stop made on one end of the root so that the blade can be inserted and removed in one direction only, while on the opposite end is a tang. This tang is bent to secure the blade in the disk.

Turbine blades may be either forged or cast, depending on the composition of the alloys. Most blades are precision cast and finish ground to the desired shape. Many turbine blades are cast as a single crystal, which gives the blades better strength and heat properties. Heat barrier coating, such as ceramic coating, and air flow cooling help keep the turbine blades and inlet nozzles cooler. This allows the exhaust temperature to be raised, increasing the efficiency of the engine. Figure 7 shows a turbine blade with air holes for cooling purposes.

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Figure 7. Turbine blade with cooling holes

Most turbines are open at the outer perimeter of the blades; however, a second type called the shrouded turbine is sometimes used. The shrouded turbine blades, in effect, form a band around the outer perimeter of the turbine wheel. This improves efficiency and vibration characteristics, and permits lighter stage weights. On the other hand, it limits turbine speed and requires more blades. [Figure 8]

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Figure 8. Shrouded turbine blades

In turbine rotor construction, it occasionally becomes necessary to utilize turbines of more than one stage. A single turbine wheel often cannot absorb enough power from the exhaust gases to drive the components dependent on the turbine for rotative power; thus, it is necessary to add additional turbine stages.

A turbine stage consists of a row of stationary vanes or nozzles, followed by a row of rotating blades. In some models of turboprop engine, as many as five turbine stages have been utilized successfully. It should be remembered that, regardless of the number of wheels necessary for driving engine components, there is always a turbine nozzle preceding each wheel.

As was brought out in the preceding discussion of turbine stages, the occasional use of more than one turbine wheel is warranted in cases of heavy rotational loads. It should also be pointed out that the same loads that necessitate multistage turbines often make it advantageous to incorporate multiple compressor rotors.

In the single-stage rotor turbine, the power is developed by one turbine rotor, and all engine-driven parts are driven by this single wheel. [Figure 9] This arrangement is used on engines where the need for low weight and compactness predominates. This is the simplest version of the pure turbojet engine. A multistage turbine is shown in Figure 10.

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Figure 9. Single-stage rotor turbine

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Figure 10. Multirotor turbine

In multiple spool engines, each spool has its own set of turbine stages. Each set of turbine stages turns the compressor attached to it. Most turbofan engines have two spools: low pressure (fan shaft a few stages of compression and the turbine to drive it) and high pressure (high pressure compressor shaft and high pressure turbine). [Figure 11]

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Figure 11. Dual-rotor turbine for split-spool compressor

The remaining element to be discussed concerning turbine familiarization is the turbine casing or housing. The turbine casing encloses the turbine wheel and the nozzle vane assembly, and at the same time gives either direct or indirect support to the stator elements of the turbine section. It always has flanges provided front and rear for bolting the assembly to the combustion chamber housing and the exhaust cone assembly, respectively. A turbine casing is illustrated in Figure 12.

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Figure 12. Turbine casing assembly