Flow visualizations and stereoscopic PIV (SPIV) measurements are carried out to study the flow phenomena developing in the rotor passage of an axial compressor at the onset of stall. Experiments have been performed in the JHU optically index-matched facility, using acrylic blades and liquid that have the same optical refractive index. The blade geometries are based on the first one and a half stages of the Low Speed Axial Compressor (LSAC) facility at NASA Glenn. The SPIV measurements provide detailed snapshots and ensemble statistics on the flow in a series of meridional planes. Data recorded in closely spaced planes enable us to obtain ensemble averaged 3D vorticity distributions. High speed imaging of cavitation, performed at low pressure, is used to qualitatively visualize the vortical structures within the rotor passage. The observations are performed just above and at stall conditions. At pre-stall condition, shortly after it rolled up, the tip leakage vortex (TLV) breaks up into widely distributed intermittent vortical structures. In particular, interaction of the backward tip leakage flow with the nearly opposite direction main passage flow under (radially inward) it results in periodic generation of large scale vortices that extend upstream, from the suction side (SS) of one blade to the pressure side (PS) or even near the leading edge of the next blade. When these structures penetrate to the next passage, they trigger formation of a similar phenomenon there, initiating a process that sustains itself. Once they form, these vortices rotate with the blade, indicating little through flow in the tip region. The 3D velocity and vorticity distributions confirm the presence of these large flow structures at the transition between the high circumferential velocity region below the TLV center and the main flow deeper in the passage. Further reduction in flow rate into the stall range caused a rapid increase in the number and scale of these vortices, demonstrating that their formation and proliferation plays a key role in the onset of stall.

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