If you have been on an aircraft flight before, you may know that passenger cabins can get very chilly or even very stuffy and hot depending on the flight. With one simple twist of the overhead fan, air conditioning (A/C) can make your ride much more of a pleasant experience. But how does this seemingly simple solution to our flight comfort actually work?
Aircraft air conditioning is supplied by air that is processed through two packs that work to regulate airflow and temperature as required. Despite there being many types of aircraft, the air conditioning system principles and operations remain the same. A/C packs are often located near the main landing gear of the plane on the left and right wings and remove excessive heat using bleed air that enters the packs from the aircraft bleed air system, supplying air to cabins at the desired temperature. The A/C system is based on an ACM (Air Cycle Machine) cooling device and is often called the “Pack”, or air conditioning package.
The aircraft pneumatic system is supplied by bleed air tap-offs on each engine compressor section and supplies the air cycle conditioning system. The bleed air is then directed from the pneumatic manifold into the primary heat exchanger of the packs. This bleed air is cycled through the primary exchanger where ram air removes some of the heat before it is compressed and enters the secondary heat exchanger to continue the cooling process. Cross flow of ram air continues to remove heat before the air moves into the ACM turbine inlet.
After leaving the secondary heat exchanger, bleed air moves through the hot side of the reheater for a first time before being cooled down using colder air from the condenser. The bleed air temperature is increased as it passes through the reheater a second time before moving into the turbine section. By increasing the temperature in the pack, the efficiency of the turbine is also increased. The ACM works to decrease the air temperature by expanding it through a turbine.
As the air leaves the turbine, it passes through the colder side of the condenser, decreasing the temperature of the air to a point below the dew point which turns the vapor into a liquid. Moving from the turbine into the water extractor, moisture is removed and goes to the water spray nozzles which sprays the water into the ram air duct. This works to cool the ram air stream, increasing the cooling efficiency by evaporation.
The passenger cabins are supplied with conditioned air from the mix manifold as the air moves through rise ducts and the side walls before exiting through the overhead distribution duct. The flight cabin is given conditioned air from the left pack and mix manifold, or the right pack if the left is not functioning. 50 percent of the cabin air is recycled for ventilation purposes by recirculation systems that use two fans to move air from the passenger compartment into the mix manifold.
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