Current models on the tip clearance flow in turbomachines only describe the time-averaged behaviour of the flow structures. However, the real tip clearance flow is periodically fluctuating in time. This fact has to be considered for the design of turbomachine bladings especially with regard to blade vibrations and tip clearance noise.

Detailed experimental investigations on the time-resolved behaviour of the flow in the rotor blade tip region were carried out in a four-stage low-speed research compressor. A strong time-periodic interaction of the blade tip vortices of adjacent blades can be shown for relatively large tip clearance of the rotor blades for operating points near the stability limit of the compressor. The resulting flow pattern, which frequency is not related to the rotor frequency, moves along the blade row. It can be described as a multicell configuration with strongly fluctuating cell number and size. The structure and propagation of the flow instability can be summarized in a model of the periodic fluctuating tip clearance flow (Mailach et al., 2000).

Additional experiments were carried out in a straight cascade to improve the understanding of this flow phenomenon. It can be shown by means of time-resolved measurements that the same disturbance exists for comparable inlet flow conditions in the blade tip region of the cascade. Flow visualizations show that the blade tip vortex is strongly fluctuating and moves sometimes ahead of the leading edge of the adjacent blade. The result of this is a short-lengthscale flow pattern, which is propagating along the blade row. These experiments confirm the model of the time-periodic tip clearance flow proposed for compressors. A Strouhal-number for the estimation of the frequency of the flow fluctuation will be presented, which includes both design and aerodynamic parameters.

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