Aerodynamic Interactions in Vortex Tube Separator Arrays

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Virginia Tech


Helicopter turboshaft engines may ingest large amounts of foreign particles (most commonly sand/dust), which can cause significant compressor blade damage and even engine failure. In many helicopters, this issue is mitigated by separating the particles from the intake airstream. An effective device for engine air-particle separation is the vortex tube separator (VTS), which uses centrifugal forces in a vortical flow to radially filter foreign particles from a duct with an annular exit. Dozens or hundreds of these devices are linked together on a shared manifold known as a VTS array. There is a distinct lack of scientific literature regarding these arrays, which likely feature significantly more complex flowfields than singular VTSs due to aerodynamic interactions between the devices. The research presented in this dissertation identifies and explains flow features unique to arrays by means of an experimental investigation downstream of various VTS configurations in a wind tunnel. Mean PIV flowfields reveal that the VTS array rapidly generates a strong central recirculation zone while a single VTS does not, implying the existence of axial flow gradients within associated separators that could affect filtration efficiency. The key factor here is the global swirl intensity, which is increased in array flows due to high angular momentum contributions from separators that are radially distant from the duct center. A preliminary momentum integral model is constructed to predict the onset of recirculation in VTS flows. Analysis is then extended to the unsteady flowfield, where it is shown that VTS-generated turbulence contains only low levels of anisotropy. Spectral proper orthogonal decomposition is conducted on the array flow; it reveals the existence of low-frequency harmonic behavior composed of back-and-forth pumping motions downstream of the central VTS. Additionally, a unique precession motion is found in the same region at a slightly higher frequency. Similar precessing vortex cores have been shown to reduce separation efficiency in other cyclone separators. Both of these coherent structures may be associated with the central recirculation zone and may interfere with VTS array filtration given their timescales relative to potential particle relaxation timescales. This dissertation opens the door for future experimental and computational studies of fluid and particle dynamics in VTS flows with the goal of improving VTS array-specific design philosophies.



Vortex tube separators, engine air-particle separation, cyclone filtration, swirling flow