Unsteady three-dimensional flow fields in a transonic axial compressor rotor (NASA Rotor 37) have been investigated by unsteady Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes simulations. The simulations show that the breakdown of the tip leakage vortex occurs in the compressor rotor because of the interaction of the vortex with the shock wave. At near-peak efficiency condition small bubble-type breakdown of the tip leakage vortex happens periodically and causes the loading of the adjacent blade to fluctuate periodically near the leading edge. Since the blade loading near the leading edge is closely linked to the swirl intensity of the tip leakage vortex, the periodic fluctuation of the blade loading leads to the periodic breakdown of the tip leakage vortex, resulting in self-sustained flow oscillation in the tip leakage flow field. However, the tip leakage vortex breakdown is so weak and small that it is not observed in the time-averaged flow field at near-peak efficiency condition. On the other hand, spiral-type breakdown of the tip leakage vortex is caused by the interaction between the vortex and the shock wave at near-stall operating condition. The vortex breakdown is found continuously since the swirl intensity of tip leakage vortex keeps strong at near-stall condition. The spiral-type vortex breakdown has the nature of self-sustained flow oscillation and gives rise to the large fluctuation of the tip leakage flow field, in terms of shock wave location, blockage near the rotor tip and three-dimensional separation structure on the suction surface. It is found that the breakdown of the tip leakage vortex leads to the unsteady flow phenomena near the rotor tip, accompanying large blockage effect in the transonic compressor rotor at the near-stall condition.

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