The majority of recent stationary gas turbine combustors employ swirling flows for flame stabilization. The swirling flow undergoes vortex breakdown and exhibits a complex flow field including zones of recirculating fluid and regions of high shear. Often, self-excited helical flow instabilities are found in these flows that may influence the combustion process in beneficial and adverse ways. In the present study we investigate the occurrence and shape of self-excited hydrodynamic instabilities and the related heat-release fluctuations over a wide range of operating conditions. We employ high-speed stereoscopic particle image velocimetry and simultaneous OH*-chemiluminescence imaging to resolve the flow velocities and heat release distribution, respectively. The results reveal four different flame shapes: A detached annular flame, a long trumpet shaped flame, a typical V-flame, and a very short flame anchored near the combustor inlet. The flame shapes were found to closely correlate with the reactivity of the mixture. Highly steam-diluted or very lean flames cause a detachment, whereas hydrogen fuel leads to very short flames. The detached flames feature a helical instability, which in terms of frequency and shape is similar to the isothermal case. A complete suppression of the helical structure is found for the V-flame. Both, the trumpet shaped flame and the very short flame feature helical instabilities of different frequencies and appearances. The phase-averaged OH*-chemiluminescence images show that the helical instabilities cause large scale-heat release fluctuations. The helical structure of the fluctuations is verified using a tomographic reconstruction technique.

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