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To increase an engine’s horsepower, manufacturers have devised forced induction systems called supercharger and turbosupercharger systems. These systems compress the intake air to increase its density. However, the key difference between each lies in their power supply. While a supercharger takes advantage of an engine-driven air pump or compressor, a turbocharger acquires its power from the exhaust stream that runs through a turbine which in turn spins the compressor. Aircraft equipped with such systems have a manifold pressure (MAP) gauge that displays MAP within the engine’s intake manifold.
When a normally aspirated aircraft ascends, it eventually reaches an altitude where the MAP is not enough for a normal climb. This altitude limit is known as the aircraft’s service ceiling, and it is directly influenced by the engine’s ability to generate power. If the induction air making its way into the engine is pressurized by either a supercharger or a turbosupercharger, the aircraft’s service ceiling can be increased. With these systems, aircraft can fly at higher altitudes with the added benefit of elevated true airspeed and the increased ability to circumnavigate adverse weather.
A supercharger is an engine-driven air pump or compressor that supplies compressed air to the engine to provide additional pressure to induction air, allowing the engine to generate more power. First, the supercharger increases manifold pressure and forces the fuel-air mixture into the engine cylinders. Next, higher manifold pressure acts to increase the density of the fuel-air mixture, ultimately increasing the power an engine can generate. Since a normally aspirated engine cannot have a manifold pressure higher than the existing atmospheric pressure, a supercharger can boost manifold pressure to at least 30 “Hg.
Superchargers are indispensable at high altitudes where air density is 50% than that of the average elevation at sea level. In many cases, superchargers will supply air to the engine at the same density as they do at sea level. Additionally, takeoff can be made easier when a supercharger is in the low blower position, commonly referred to as a ground-boosted engine, and when they are equipped with a type of supercharger are called an altitude engine.
A supercharged induction system contains a supercharger between the fuel metering device and intake manifold. It is driven by the engine via a gear train at one speed, two speeds, or variable speeds. Furthermore, superchargers can have one or more stages that each provide an increase in pressure. As such, superchargers may be classified as single stage, two stage, or multistage, depending on the number of times compression takes place.
The most efficient method of increasing horsepower in an engine is by utilizing a turbosupercharger or turbocharger. To boost engine performance, turbochargers use the engine’s exhaust gasses to drive an air compressor to increase the pressure of air making its way into the engine through the carburetor or fuel injection system, thereby boosting power at higher altitudes.
Since turbochargers are powered by an engine’s exhaust gasses, they can recover energy from hot exhaust gasses that would otherwise be lost. Another major advantage of turbochargers is their ability to maintain control over an engine’s rated sea-level horsepower from sea level and up to the engine’s critical altitude. Critical attitude is defined as the maximum altitude at which a turbocharged engine can generate its rated horsepower. It is important to note that power output will begin to decrease like it does for normally aspirated engines.
Turbochargers work by increasing the pressure of the engine’s induction air, allowing the engine to develop seal level or greater horsepower at higher altitudes. A turbocharger is made up of two main elements: a compressor and turbine. The compressor section contains an impeller that turns at a high rate of speed. When induction air is drawn across the impeller blades, the impeller accelerates the air, so that a large volume of air can be sucked into the compressor housing. This produces high-pressure, high-density air that is delivered to the engine.
To turn the impeller, the engine’s exhaust gasses are utilized to drive a turbine wheel that is positioned on the other end of the impeller’s drive shaft. As more exhaust gasses flow over the turbine, more energy can be extracted, forcing the impeller to deliver more compressed air to the engine. The flow of exhaust is controlled by an adjustable butterfly valve. Meanwhile, an intercooler is used to lower the temperature of compressed gasses, lowering the risk of detonation.
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