Gas foil bearings (FB) satisfy many of the requirements noted for novel oil-free turbomachinery. However, FB design remains largely empirical, in spite of successful commercial applications. The mechanical structural characteristics of foil bearings, namely stiffness and damping, have been largely ignored in the archival literature. Four commercial bump-type foil bearings were acquired to measure their load capacity under conditions of no shaft rotation. The test bearings contain a single Teflon-coated foil supported on 25 bumps. The nominal radial clearance is 0.036mm for a 38mm journal. A simple test setup was assembled to measure the FB deflections resulting from static loads. The tests were conducted with three shafts of increasing diameter to induce a degree of preload into the FB structure. Static measurements show nonlinear FB deflections, varying with the orientation of the load relative to the foil spot weld. Loading and unloading tests evidence hysteresis. The FB structural stiffness increases as the bumps-foil radial deflection increases (hardening effect). The assembly preload results in notable stiffness changes, in particular for small radial loads. A simple analytical model assembles individual bump stiffnesses and renders predictions for the FB structural stiffness as a function of the bump geometry and material, dry-friction coefficient, load orientation, clearance and preload. The model predicts well the test data, including the hardening effect. The uncertainty in the actual clearance (gap) upon assembly of a shaft into a FB affects most of the predictions.

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