An aircraft exhaust system has two important roles. First, it vents poisonous gases away from the engine and fuselage while mitigating noise. Second, it indirectly supplies cabin and carburetor heat. Due to the exhaust system’s exposure to very high temperatures, hydrocarbon fuels continuously burn, leaving excess corrosive residue that builds up and damages components.
When an exhaust system is not working properly, toxic emissions remain in the aircraft, resulting in long term health effects. Additionally, malfunctioning exhaust systems can lead to poor engine performance, increased risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, or other accidents. To understand the importance of an aircraft exhaust system, this blog will provide an overview of the components that comprise this system and how it works.
The exhaust system’s work begins in the exhaust manifold. The exhaust manifold is connected directly to the engine block where the cylinders and cylinder heads that create the combustion chamber hold the fuel and oxygen being burned. As such, the exhaust manifold is the first place that waste products of combustion enter. It filters these toxic gases through exhaust pipes that are typically made of aluminum, cast iron, or stainless steel. Additionally, the exhaust manifold is tasked with burning any remaining fuel that has not already been burned by the engine.
One of the exhaust manifold’s most useful features is the oxygen sensor that is usually located near or inside the manifold. This sensor monitors the oxygen levels of the exiting exhaust gases in order to measure the aircraft’s fuel mixture, allowing operators to regulate how much fuel is needed for the engine to run optimally.
Once the excess fumes exit the manifold, they make their way into the catalytic converter. The catalytic converter is a larger canteen-like device that converts toxic byproducts such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide. This process consists of filtering these byproducts through certain precious metals and chemicals that are located inside the converter.
While catalytic converters rarely break down, when they do, it causes serious problems. As the converter is composed of a block of ceramic plating, the plating eventually corrodes. As a result, bits of ceramic shake inside the converter, eventually clogging up the exhaust system.
An engine makes a number of noises, all of which are mitigated by the muffler. Mufflers are responsible for reducing the noise pollution generated by engines, acting as a resonance dampener that forces sound waves to bounce around until they cancel each other out. In more technical terms, the muffler contains a perforator and resonator chamber that utilizes a specific volume of air and length to evaporate the sound waves that are created in the engine.
Beyond noise reduction, the muffler also releases the remaining toxic gases from the converter. If the muffler is damaged, there is increased noise pollution, especially when operating at higher speeds or during acceleration. More than that, damage to the muffler can lead to an exhaust fume leak that has harmful health effects.
Exhaust Pipe/Tail Pipe
The last portion that is responsible for guiding the engine’s emissions out of the aircraft is the exhaust pipe. Similar to catalytic converters, exhaust pipes are also susceptible to corrosion, creating a number of problems. Fortunately, pipes are replaceable and should be routinely checked to avoid further damage.
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