Studies have been conducted on two laboratory test compressors to investigate the process leading to the formation of finite amplitude rotating stall cells. The measurements were obtained from circumferential arrays of hot-wires and were spatially and temporarily analysed to show that modal perturbations are not always present prior to stall, and when present, sometimes have little direct effect on the formation of the stall cells. The measurements lead to the conclusion that the occurrence of modal perturbations, and the formation of finite amplitude stall cells, are two separate phenomena; both occurring under roughly the same conditions at the peak of the pressure rise characteristic. The measurements also underline the hitherto unsuspected importance of short length scale disturbances in the process of stall inception. Examples are given of different ways in which stall cells can develop and the conclusions are backed up with a summary of current test data from various machines around the world.

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