Small unmanned aircraft are currently limited to flight ceilings below 20,000 ft due to the lack of an appropriate propulsion system. One of the most critical technological hurdles for an increased flight ceiling of small platforms is the impact of reduced Reynolds number conditions at altitude on the performance of small radial turbomachinery. The current article investigates the influence of Reynolds number on the efficiency and pressure ratio of two small centrifugal compressor impellers using a one-dimensional meanline performance analysis code. The results show that the efficiency and pressure ratio of the 60 mm baseline compressor at the design rotational speed drops with 6–9% from sea-level to 70,000 ft. The impact on the smaller 20 mm compressor is slightly more pronounced and amounts to 6–10%. Off-design changes at low rotational speeds are significantly higher and can amount to up to 15%. Whereas existing correlations show a good match for the efficiency drop at the design rotational speed, they fail to predict efficiency changes with rotational speed. A modified version is therefore proposed.

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