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Aircraft cooling systems

In an aircraft, cooling systems are required to keep the cabin temperatures at a comfortable level. Even
though the outside temperatures are very low at high altitudes, still cooling of cabin is required due to:
i. Large internal heat generation due to occupants, equipment etc.
ii. Heat generation due to skin friction caused by the fast moving aircraft
iii. At high altitudes, the outside pressure will be sub-atmospheric. When air at this low pressure is
compressed and supplied to the cabin at pressures close to atmospheric, the temperature
increases significantly. For example, when outside air at a pressure of 0.2 bar and temperature
of 223 K (at 10000 m altitude) is compressed to 1 bar, its temperature increases to about 353
K. If the cabin is maintained at 0.8 bar, the temperature will be about 332 K. This effect is
called as ram effect. This effect adds heat to the cabin, which needs to be taken out by the
cooling system.
iv. Solar radiation

For low speed aircraft flying at low altitudes, cooling system may not be required, however, for high
speed aircraft flying at high altitudes, a cooling system is a must.
Even though the COP of air cycle refrigeration is very low compared to vapour compression
refrigeration systems, it is still found to be most suitable for aircraft refrigeration systems as:
i. Air is cheap, safe, non-toxic and non-flammable. Leakage of air is not a problem
ii. Cold air can directly be used for cooling thus eliminating the low temperature heat exchanger (open
systems) leading to lower weight
iii. The aircraft engine already consists of a high speed turbo-compressor, hence separate compressor
for cooling system is not required. This reduces the weight per kW cooling considerably.
Typically, less than 50% of an equivalent vapour compression system
iv. Design of the complete system is much simpler due to low pressures. Maintenance required is also
Simple aircraft refrigeration cycle:

Figure shows the schematic of a simple aircraft refrigeration system and the operating cycle on T-s
diagram. This is an open system. As shown in the T-s diagram, the outside low pressure and low
temperature air (state 1) is compressed due to ram effect to ram pressure (state 2). During this process its
temperature increases from 1 to 2. This air is compressed in the main compressor to state 3, and is cooled
to state 4 in the air cooler. Its pressure is reduced to cabin pressure in the turbine (state 5), as a result its
temperature drops from 4 to 5. The cold air at state 5 is supplied to the cabin. It picks up heat as it flows
through the cabin providing useful cooling effect. The power output of the turbine is used to drive the fan,
which maintains the required air flow over the air cooler. This simple system is good for ground cooling
(when the aircraft is not moving) as fan can continue to maintain airflow over the air cooler.
Due to irreversibilities, the actual pressure at the end of ramming will be less than the pressure resulting
from isentropic compression. The ratio of actual pressure rise to the isentropic pressure rise is called as
ram efficiency.
Bootstrap system:

Figure shows the schematic of a bootstrap system, which is a modification of the simple system. As shown
in the figure, this system consists of two heat exchangers (air cooler and aftercooler), in stead of one air
cooler of the simple system. It also incorporates a secondary compressor, which is driven by the turbine
of the cooling system. This system is suitable for high speed aircraft, where in the velocity of the aircraft
provides the necessary airflow for the heat exchangers, as a result a separate fan is not required. As shown
in the cycle diagram, ambient air state 1 is pressurized to state 2 due to the ram effect. This air is further
compressed to state 3 in the main compressor. The air is then cooled to state 4 in the air cooler. The heat
rejected in the air cooler is absorbed by the ram air at state 2. The air from the air cooler is further
compressed from state 4 to state 5 in the secondary compressor. It is then cooled to state 6 in the after
cooler, expanded to cabin pressure in the cooling turbine and is supplied to the cabin at a low temperature
T7. Since the system does not consist of a separate fan for driving the air through the heat exchangers, it
is not suitable for ground cooling. However, in general ground cooling is normally done by an external
air conditioning system as it is not efficient to run the aircraft engine just to provide cooling when it is
Other modifications over the simple system are: regenerative system and reduced ambient system. In a
regenerative system, a part of the cold air from the cooling turbine is used for precooling the air entering
the turbine. As a result much lower temperatures are obtained at the exit of the cooling turbine, however,
this is at the expense of additional weight and design complexity. The cooling turbine drives a fan similar
to the simple system. The regenerative system is good for both ground cooling as well as high speed
aircrafts. The reduced ambient system is well-suited for supersonic aircrafts and rockets.

Pressurization System

At atmospheric condition we have sufficient pressure (3 p.s.i.) to breath freely. As the altitude increases
pressure drops. Till 8,000 ft altitude the pressure variation won’t affect us but beyond that we will get
affect (hypoxia), so in order to have same pressure to breath freely in the cabin of aircraft, we need to go
for maintaining the pressure artificially.

It may be done by

 I. Cabin Superchargers

 II. Engine –Driven Compressors

 III. Compressed air from engine

As like pressure temperature also drops as the altitude increases, but up to certain layer of atmosphere
which is stratosphere. Most of the aircraft are operating within Stratosphere. So we need to have a constant
temperature in our cabin, so that passengers feel the comfort of their travel.
It can be done by

 i. Air cycle cooling system

 ii. Vapor cycle cooling system

Most of the aircraft have mingled the pressurization and air conditioning system in order to simplify the
Basic Air Cycle Systems

1. Left engine
2. Right engine
3. Flow limiter
4. Primary heat exchanger
5. Primary heat exchanger bypass valve
6. Shut off valve
7. Compressor
8. Secondary heat exchanger
9. Water separator
10. Secondary heat exchanger bypass valve
11. Refrigeration unit

1. Air from the compressor sections of the two engines is taken for air conditioning and pressurization.
We are making a cross connection so that it can supply uniform flow of air.

2. Air is going to the flow limiter. Flow limiter limits the amount of compressed air to entry into the
system. Suppose if there is any pipeline ruptured in air cycle system, then flow limiter won’t allow the
compressed air to enter into the air cycle system.

3. Partial amount of air from the flow limiter goes to the primary heat exchanger. Primary heat exchanger
utilizes ram air for cooling purpose. The compressed air taken from the engine compressor may be at
temp range of 200 deg to 400 deg Celsius. We are cooling the air without reducing much pressure by
using heat exchanger, and heat exchanger works on Convective type.

4. Another amount of compressed air from flow limiter goes to mingle with the heat exchanger outlet air
to make a constant temperature air of 300 °F. This constant temperature can be attained only by proper
operation of Primary heat exchanger (PHE) bypass valve. For example if heat exchanger outlet air is at
200°F, but I need an output of 300°F at outlet portion of Primary heat exchanger bypass valve, so we are
opening the bypass valve for some designated time and mixing the hot(directed from flow limiter) and
cold (PHE outlet ) flows.
5 .This 300°F temperature air is going to split for three Purpose
a) For Anti-icing
b) To supply hot air to cabin(if required)
c) To refrigeration unit

6. This 300°F air can be directly used for anti-icing and de-icing purpose. This air will be taken by the
tubes and will be sprayed on the leading edge through suitable arrangements. And one part of the 300°F
air flow is directed to the cabin for hot air supply.

7. Remaining part of the air is directed towards refrigeration unit for further cooling. On the way there is
main control that is “Main shut off Valve”. This can be directly controlled by the pilot.

8. After main shut off valve there is Refrigeration unit, this contains
a) Compressor
b) Turbine
c) Water Separator
Both turbine and compressor are connected by the same shaft.

9. The air flows to the compressor region; there it strikes the compressor blade and makes rotating at
initial. After compressor starts it compresses the air and Pressurizes the air so some amount of heat may
be added to the air. Then Air is going to the Secondary heat exchanger (SHE), where the heat from the
air is taken by the ram air by convection. The air has been cooled now.

10. The output of SHE goes to the Turbine. Since because of the turbine, here the cold gas is allowed to
expand, so that pressure drops, temperature again drops, it may be on some minus °F sometimes.

11. After expansion in the turbine, air which is in a circular motion is allowed to go for the water separator
region for separation of water particles in the cold air. Since water particles are denser than air they get
attached to the walls of the water separator due to centrifugal force. In some specified place there are
some holes made on the water separator to drain the water particles attached.

12. In the cabin we need only a temperature range of 60°F-125°F (15°C-51°C) and a pressure of 3p.s.i.
which is suitable for human.

13. By opening and closing the refrigerant bypass valve, we can mingle the pure cold air and 300°F air,
to make a possible living temperature for human beings.

14. After maintaining to proper temperature and pressure the air is allowed to go to the cabin by suitable

15. If there is any problem on the total system means, we can directly mix the hot air supply with ram air
(which is taken near SHE) and maintain the proper temperature by proper mixing. But this method is only
for emergency purpose. Please note when using this ram air method of cooling pressurization should be
done separately by cabin superchargers or whatever the device builds up pressure.


Vapor cycle systems make use of the scientific fact that a liquid can be vaporized at any
temperature by changing the pressure above it. Water at sea level barometric pressure of 14.7 psi will
boil at 212°F. The same water in a closed tank under a pressure of 90 psi will not boil at less than320°F.
If the pressure is reduced to 0.95 psi by a vacuum pump, the water would boil at 100°F.If the pressure
is reduced further, the water would boil at a still lower temperature; for instance, at0.12 psi, water will
boil at 40°F. Water can be made to boil at any temperature if the pressure corresponding to the desired
boiling temperature can be maintained. Liquids that boil at low temperatures are the most desirable for
use as refrigerants. Comparatively large quantities of heat are absorbed when liquids are evaporated;
that is, changed to a vapor. For this reason, liquid Freon 12 or 22is used in most vapor cycle refrigeration
units whether used in aircraft or in home air conditioners and refrigerators. If liquid Freon 12 were
poured into an open container surrounded by standard sea level pressure, it would immediately begin
to boil at temperatures above -22°F (-30°C). There would be a continuous flow of heat from the warm
surrounding air through the walls of the container to the boiling Freon. Moisture from the air would
condense and freeze on the exterior of the container. This open container system would work
satisfactorily insofar as cooling alone is concerned. A drum of Freon could be connected to a coil and
the vaporized Freon piped outdoors. A system such as this would provide satisfactory refrigeration, but
the cost of continuously replacing the refrigerant would be prohibitive. Because of the cost involved, it
is desirable to use the refrigerant over and over.
Vapour cycle system
Physical principle

Liquids can be vaporized at any temperature by changing the pressure acting on it. To clearly understand
this concept, we will take an example of water contained in a vessel. When the vessel is at atmospheric
pressure, the water will be boiling at 100°C when heating. If I am pressurizing the vessel to more than the
atmospheric pressure, then water will not boil at 100°C. If I am creating a drop in pressure in the vessel
by a vacuum pump, then water will boil at a temperature less than 100°C.
Basic law of thermodynamics states that heat will always flow from hot body to cold body. If I need a
reverse of this, I have to add some work.

Typical System operation:

1. FREON is used as refrigerant in the vapor cycle cooling system. It has a boiling point of 4°C.

2. At the receiver because of high pressure FREON will have high boiling point.

3. When the vapor cycle system is switched on, the compressor starts delivering the pressure and thus
making flow.

4. The highly pressurized FREON at the receiver is in liquid phase. When the Freon flows through the
circuit, first it expands at the Expansion valve. So pressure has been dropped (i.e. Boiling point

5. The less pressure Freon then goes to the evaporator stage. Evaporator will be exposed to Cabin. We
blow the warm air of cabin over the evaporator coils by fan, and thus doing a forced convection.

6. The heat transferred to the Freon makes it to change the phase which is from liquid to vapor.

7. The less pressure Freon vapor is then compressed by the Compressor and thus it delivers high
temperature high pressure Freon vapor.

8. Now this high pressure and high temperature Freon vapor enters the Condenser coils where the cool
air from atmosphere will be blown over the coils (here too making a forced convection). Condenser will
be exposed to the Atmosphere. Because of heat transfer the Freon losses heat and returns to liquid phase.
9. Then it goes to the receiver (high pressure low temperature Freon liquid)

10. The cycle continues as stated. Before doing any type of maintenance activities to the vapor cycle
system, we have to purge the system with inert gas in a open atmosphere.

11. Freon is colourless, odourless, and nontoxic; however, being heavier than air, it will displace oxygen
and cause suffocation. When heated over an open flame, it converts to phosgene which is deadly!
12. To know the Freon level in the circuit a sight glass arrangement will be employed between Receivers
to Expansion valve. If the unit requires additional refrigerant, bubbles will be present in the sight glass
otherwise steady.

When using this method air conditioning, pressurization have to be done separately, either by
using Cabin superchargers or Engine driven compressor or by using your future design that delivers
pressure with least energy taken as input.


Achieving a satisfactory comfort level for pilot and passengers is a primary goal when developing
any aircraft environmental control system. Methods to meet this goal will differ depending on the size
of aircraft, due to the changing volume of airflow there several ways for air condition system for an
aircraft. The best choice for small aircraft vapour cycle cooling system (VCCS) been used. Vapour
cycle refrigeration is the predominant means of air-conditioning in small - and medium-size business
aircraft and helicopters. Vapour cycle cooling system (VCCS) is more easier to use on small aircraft
because it requires a minimum power for a given amount of cooling and also allow the aircraft to be
cooled on the ground as well.

The basic function of vapour cycle cooling system (VCCS) is to give accurate cooling at aircraft cabin
and also to remove heat from electrical and electronic equipment. Its work on principle of cooling based
on ability of refrigent to absorb heat when changing from liquid to gas. Once it turns to gas all the latent
heat of vaporization it is compressed and condensed back into its liquid state. In other way vapour cycle
system is also help to reduced the humidity of the air entering the cabin while aircraft on the ground and
as the temperature of the air is reduced the moisture condenses on the fin of the evaporator then water
droplets blown from the evaporator by the air stream and are collected in a water trap and drained away.