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Bleed Air Systems
The design of most turbojet and turboprop powered aircraft incorporates a bleed air system. A bleed air system uses a network of ducts, valves and regulators to conduct medium to high pressure air "bled" from the compressor section of the engine(s) and APU, to various locations within the aircraft. There it is utilized for a number of functions inclusive of:
- air conditioning
- engine start
- wing and engine anti-ice systems
- water system pressurisation
- hydraulic system reservoir pressurisation
- boundary layer separation enhancement
Bleed Air Extraction
Bleed air is extracted from the compressor of the engine or APU. The specific stage of the compressor from which the air is bled varies by engine type. In some engines, air may be taken from more than one location for different uses as the temperature and pressure of the air is variable dependant upon the compressor stage at which it is extracted. Bleed air typically has a temperature of 200 – 250 degrees C. and a pressure of approximately 40 PSI exiting the engine pylon.
Bleed air is routed to the air conditioning packs where it is filtered and then cooled using an expansion process. The temperature of the air is regulated using uncooled bleed air and the humidity of the mixture is adjusted prior to introducing the air into the aircraft cabin. Temperature controllers in the flight deck and cabin allow adjustment of the target temperature and thermostats provide feedback to the packs to demand an increase or decrease in the output temperature.
Bleed air, extracted from either the Auxiliary Power Unit or another operating engine is used to power an air turbine starter motor to start the engine. The primary advantage of an air turbine starter is that a given amount of torque can be produced by a smaller and lighter unit than would be the case if it was electrically or hydraulically powered.
Water System / Hydraulic Reservoir Pressurisation
Bleed air is often utilized to pressurise the potable water holding tank eliminating the requirement for a pump to feed the water to the galleys and lavatories. Similarly, bleed air is used to pressurise the hydraulic system reservoirs of many aircraft reducing the likelihood of pump cavitation and the resulting loss of system pressure.
Boundary Layer Enhancement (Blown Flaps)
Although its current use is very limited, bleed air has been used in the past, mainly in military applications, to enhance boundary layer energy. In a conventional blown flap, a small amount of bleed air is piped to channels running along the rear of the wing. There, it is forced through slots in the wing flaps of the aircraft when the flaps reach certain angles. Injecting high energy air into the boundary layer produces an increase in the stalling angle of attack and the maximum lift coefficient by delaying boundary layer separation from the airfoil.
The major threat associated with a bleed air system is the potential risk of a leak resulting from loss of system integrity. A bleed air leak can lead to loss of system function, overheat or even fire. This topic is covered in detail in the article entitled Bleed Air Leaks.
Aircraft design has featured bleed air systems for a number of decades. However, with the introduction of the B787, Boeing has incorporated a new no-bleed systems architecture that eliminates the traditional pneumatic system and bleed manifold. Most functions formerly powered by bleed air such as the air-conditioning packs and wing anti-ice systems are now electrically powered. According to Boeing, the no-bleed systems architecture offers operators a number of benefits, including:
- Improved fuel consumption due to a more efficient secondary power extraction, transfer, and usage.
- Reduced maintenance costs due to elimination of the maintenance-intensive bleed system.
- Improved reliability due to the use of modern power electronics and fewer components in the engine installation.
- Expanded range and reduced fuel consumption due to lower overall weight.
Accident & Incidents
Events held on the SKYbrary A&I database which include reference to the bleed air system include:
- B737 en-route, Glen Innes Australia, 2007 (AW HF) (On 17 November 2007 a Boeing 737-700 being operated by Virgin Blue on a scheduled passenger service from Coolangatta to Melbourne at night experienced a right hand engine bleed trip off during the take off, which was continued. A subsequent attempt at reset was not successful and once above FL170, above which APU air use was not permitted, only the left engine bleed air would be available for air conditioning and cabin pressurisation. The flight crew initially decided to cruise at a lower level than planned, FL250, but once there, icing conditions were encountered and the crew decided to continue the climb to FL350 to cruise clear of cloud.)
- B752, en-route, North Sea, 2006 (FIRE AW) (On 22 October 2006 a blue haze was observed in the passenger cabin of a Boeing 757-200, operated by Thomsonfly, shortly after reaching cruise altitude on a scheduled passenger flight from Newcastle to Larnaca. A precautionary diversion was made to London Stansted, where an emergency evacuation was carried out successfully.)
- A319, en-route, Free State Province South Africa, 2008 (LOC HF AW) (On 7 September 2008 a South African Airways Airbus A319 en route from Cape Town to Johannesburg at FL370 received an ECAM warning of the failure of the No 1 engine bleed system. The crew then closed the No. 1 engine bleed with the applicable press button on the overhead panel. The cabin altitude started to increase dramatically and the cockpit crew advised ATC of the pressurisation problem and requested an emergency descent to a lower level. During the emergency descent to 11000 ft amsl, the cabin altitude warning sounded at 33000ft and the flight crew activated the cabin oxygen masks. The APU was started and pressurisation was re-established at 15000ft amsl. The crew completed the flight to the planned destination without any further event. The crew and passengers sustained no injuries and no damage was caused to the aircraft.)
- B735, en-route, SE of Kushimoto Wakayama Japan, 2006 (AW) (On 5 July 2006, during daytime, a Boeing 737-500, operated by Air Nippon Co., Ltd. took off from Fukuoka Airport as All Nippon Airways scheduled flight 2142. At about 08:10, while flying at 37,000 ft approximately 60 nm southeast of Kushimoto VORTAC, a cabin depressurization warning was displayed and the oxygen masks in the cabin were automatically deployed. The aircraft made an emergency descent and, at 09:09, landed on Chubu International Airport.)
- A320, en route, north of Öland Sweden, 2011 (AW LOC HF) (On 5 March 2011, a Finnair Airbus A320 was westbound in the cruise in southern Swedish airspace after despatch with Engine 1 bleed air system inoperative when the Engine 2 bleed air system failed and an emergency descent was necessary. The Investigation found that the Engine 2 system had shut down due to overheating and that access to proactive and reactive procedures related to operations with only a single bleed air system available were deficient. The crew failure to make use of APU air to help sustain cabin pressurisation during flight completion was noted.)