Like all internal combustion engines, and aircraft’s engine generates exhaust gas as it operates. This gas is dangerously hot and high in carbon monoxide, which is toxic to humans, and needs to be vented safely away from the cockpit of the aircraft to protect the passengers and crew. The engine exhaust system’s job is to direct these exhaust gases past the aircraft, as well as utilize them for heating the aircraft.
The exhaust system begins at the cylinders of the engine, right after combustion has taken place. After the combustion process is finished, the exhaust gases are pushed out of the cylinder through the exhaust valve, through a series of pipes until it is safely past the cockpit. Because of the threat of carbon monoxide, the exhaust system must be frequently inspected to ensure it does not have any cracks or defects that would lead to a leak.
Exhaust gas systems serve vital roles in other aspects of an aircraft’s performance. Many single-engine light aircraft use shroud heating systems to provide warmth to the cockpit and cabin by directing ambient air into a metal shroud or jacket that encases part of the aircraft’s exhaust system. The exhaust gases heat the tube they are traveling in, and by convection heat the ambient air. This air is then piped through a firewall heater valve into the cabin, making use of warmth that is otherwise wasted. Even better, the system requires no electrical or engine power, making it highly efficient. However, they must be frequently inspected, as an exhaust system failure in the shroud would lead to carbon monoxide leaking into the cabin.
Exhaust systems can also play a role in boosting performance if a turbocharger is mounted in them. A turbine within the exhaust system is turned as gases pass through it, which compresses and forces more air into the engine. When more air enters the engine, more gas can be added to the fuel/air mixture, which produces more combustion, and in turn generates more power.
Lastly, exhaust systems play a role in monitoring engine health. An exhaust gas temperature (EGT) probe can be mounted in the exhaust manifold, and measure the ratio of fuel and air entering the engine’s cylinders based on how hot the exhaust is. This can be used to regulate the fuel/air mixture of the engine, and ensure a healthy fuel economy.
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