In a perfect world, all the chemical energy stored in fuel would be converted into engine thrust during the combustion process, so that the engine is 100% efficient. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For example, a typical internal combustion engine is only about 25%-35% efficient, meaning that the remaining 65%-75% of the total energy released through combustion is utilized to operate the engine or dissipates as heat. In fact, a majority of the energy stored in fuel is used to overcome engine friction or converted into heat and noise as by-products of combustion. Since a big fraction of the total energy is converted into heat, it is clear that having an efficient cooling system in place is paramount for keeping the engine in working condition.
Without an external cooling system in place to control the temperature of the engine and its components, the temperature within this area can reach dangerous levels, the air-fuel mixture begins to detonate, and the engine would get so hot that catastrophic failure would occur. Most light aircraft take advantage of air cooling and oil cooling systems to keep engine temperature regulated. However, some aircraft engines benefit from liquid cooling systems, such as through the use of a radiator.
Oil performs a myriad of primary functions as it circulated around an engine. For instance, it reduces the friction between moving parts to protect sensitive engine components. Additionally, it provides a gas seal between the piston and cylinder walls and aids in cooling the engine by dissipating heat from the engine. Furthermore, oil removes foreign particulate matter and contaminants through a filtering process. As such, oil is an effective way of transferring heat out of the engine’s internal components and to dissipate heat into the atmosphere via an oil cooler which forms a part of the oil system.
Air cooling plays an integral role in keeping the temperature of the engine cylinders at an optimal level. In addition, air cooling works by providing a continuous passage of ambient air in the front of the cowling and out of the rear of the engine compartment. This air is delivered to each cylinder head and other hot parts in the engine, through the help of baffles. At this point, the cool ambient air makes its way over the cooling fins of each cylinder head, absorbs the heat, and removes it from the engine.
Engine baffles control the flow of air in the engine compartment through the use of aluminum guides and rubber seals. The baffle creates a high pressure region above the engine cylinders. Meanwhile, the lower portion of the engine compartment forms a low-pressure area as a result of the outflow openings at the base of the cowling. The pressure difference creates a suction of air from these two areas, thereby providing an efficient way of air cooling the engine.
During certain stages of flight, additional air cooling may be required to keep the cylinder head temperatures down. On a hot day during a sustained climb or long taxi, where the forward airspeed is low, air cooling is less effective. For this reason, cowl flaps on the underside of the engine cowling can be opened and controlled from the cockpit when additional cooling is necessitated. When the cowl flaps are opened, increased airflow is delivered through the engine compartment which aids in cooling the engine.
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