The maximum attainable performance of small gas turbines represents a strong limitation to the operating altitude and endurance of high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Significant improvement of the cycle thermal efficiency can be achieved through the introduction of heat exchangers, with the consequent increase of the overall engine weight. Since semi-closed cycle engines can achieve a superior degree of compactness compared to their open cycle counterparts, their use can offset the additional weight of the heat exchangers. This paper applies semi-closed cycles to a high-altitude UAV propulsion system, with the objective of assessing the benefits introduced on the engine performance and weight. A detailed model has been created to account for component performance and size variation as function of thermodynamic parameters. The sizing has been coupled with a multi-objective optimisation algorithm for minimum specific fuel consumption and weight. Results of two different semi-closed cycle configurations are compared with equivalent state-of-the-art open cycles, represented by a recuperated and an intercooled-recuperated engine. The results show that, for a fixed design power output, engine weight is approximately halved compared to state-of-the-art open cycles, with slightly improved specific fuel consumption performance. Optimum semi-closed cycles furthermore operate at higher overall pressure ratios than open cycles and make use of recuperators with higher effectiveness as the mass penalty of the recuperator is smaller due to the lower engine mass flow rates.
- Semi-closed cycle
- UAV propulsion