A study of gas turbine engines is an important component of an integrated thermodynamics and fluid mechanics two-course sequence at the United States Military Academy (USMA). Owing to the ubiquity of gas turbines in military use, graduating cadets will encounter a variety of these engines throughout their military careers. Especially for this unique population, it is important for engineering students to be familiar with the operation and applications of gas turbines. Experimental analysis of a functional auxiliary power unit (APU) from an Army utility helicopter has been a key component of this block of instruction for several decades. As with all laboratory equipment, the APU has experienced intermittent maintenance issues, which occasionally render it unusable for the gas turbine laboratory in the course. Because of this, a very basic virtual laboratory was implemented which integrated video of the physical laboratory with key parameters and behind-the-screen data collection for use in engine analysis.

A revitalized version of both the physical and virtual gas turbine laboratory experiences offered in the thermal-fluids course will include substantial improvements over the existing setup. The physical laboratory, which is centered on a refurbished APU from a medium-sized commercial aircraft, will continue to incorporate measurements of temperature and pressure throughout the combustion process, as well as fuel flow rate. In an improvement over the original laboratory setup, an orifice plate will be used to measure the flow rate of bleed air exiting the turbine, which had not previously been open during engine testing. Additionally, the air flow through the anti-surge valve was not metered in the original version of the physical laboratory. However, the anti-surge air flow can account for nearly 25% of the total air flow, and performance calculations in the physical laboratory will now account for this loss. The turbine output shaft will run a water-brake dynamometer. All instrumentation will be converted to digital signals and projected on a large screen outside the test area through a LabVIEW front panel. The virtual laboratory will include the same metering options as the operational APU. In addition, the virtual laboratory will include the option to alter engine operating parameters, such as inlet temperature and pressure or exhaust temperatures, and students may conduct broad parameter sweeps across ranges of possible inputs or desired outputs. These improvements will enable students to gain a deeper understanding of gas turbine operation and capabilities in practical applications. The improved laboratory will be implemented in Spring, 2014.

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