Aircraft Reciprocating Engine Valves Types and Construction

The fuel/air mixture enters the cylinders through the intake valve ports, and burned gases are expelled through the exhaust valve ports. The head of each valve opens and closes these cylinder ports. The valves used in aircraft engines are the conventional poppet type. The valves are also typed by their shape and are called either mushroom or tulip because of their resemblance to the shape of these plants. Figure 1 illustrates various shapes and types of these valves.

Aircraft Reciprocating Engine Valves
Figure 1. Various valve types

Valve Construction

The valves in the cylinders of an aircraft engine are subjected to high temperatures, corrosion, and operating stresses; thus, the metal alloy in the valves must be able to resist all these factors. Because intake valves operate at lower temperatures than exhaust valves, they can be made of chromic-nickel steel. Exhaust valves are usually made of nichrome, silchrome, or cobalt-chromium steel because these materials are much more heat resistant.

The valve head has a ground face that forms a seal against the ground valve seat in the cylinder head when the valve is closed. The face of the valve is usually ground to an angle of either 30° or 45°. In some engines, the intake-valve face is ground to an angle of 30°, and the exhaust-valve face is ground to a 45° angle. Valve faces are often made more durable by the application of a material called stellite. About 1/16 inch of this alloy is welded to the valve face and ground to the correct angle. Stellite is resistant to high-temperature corrosion and also withstands the shock and wear associated with valve operation. Some engine manufacturers use a nichrome facing on the valves. This serves the same purpose as the stellite material.

The valve stem acts as a pilot for the valve head and rides in the valve guide installed in the cylinder head for this purpose. [Figure 2] The valve stem is surface hardened to resist wear. The neck is the part that forms the junction between the head and the stem. The tip of the valve is hardened to withstand the hammering of the valve rocker arm as it opens the valve. A machined groove on the stem near the tip receives the split-ring stem keys.

Reciprocating Engine Valves
Figure 2. View of valve guide installed on a cylinder head

These stem keys form a lock ring to hold the valve spring retaining washer in place. [Figure 3]

Reciprocating Engine Valves
Figure 3. Stem keys forming a lock ring to hold valve spring retaining washers in place

Some intake and exhaust valve stems are hollow and partially filled with metallic sodium. This material is used because it is an excellent heat conductor. The sodium melts at approximately 208 °F and the reciprocating motion of the valve circulates the liquid sodium, allowing it to carry away heat from the valve head to the valve stem where it is dissipated through the valve guide to the cylinder head and the cooling fins. Thus, the operating temperature of the valve may be reduced as much as 300° to 400 °F. Under no circumstances should a sodium-filled valve be cut open or subjected to treatment which may cause it to rupture. Exposure of the sodium in these valves to the outside air results in fire or explosion with possible personal injury.

The most commonly used intake valves have solid stems, and the head is either flat or tulip shaped. Intake valves for low-power engines are usually flat headed. In some engines, the intake valve may be the tulip type and have a smaller stem than the exhaust valve or it may be similar to the exhaust valve but have a solid stem and head. Although these valves are similar, they are not interchangeable since the faces of the valves are constructed of different material. The intake valve usually has a flat milled on the tip to identify it.