For lean burn combustor development in low emission aero-engines, the pilot stage of the fuel injector plays a key role with respect to stability, operability, NOx emissions, and smoke production. Therefore it is of considerable interest to characterize the pilot module in terms of pilot zone mixing, fuel placement, flow field and interaction with the main stage.

This contribution focusses on the investigation of soot formation during pilot-only operation. Optical test methods were applied in an optically accessible single sector rig at engine idle conditions. Using planar laser-induced incandescence (LII), the distribution of soot and its dependence on air/fuel ratio, as well as geometric injector parameters, was studied. The data shows that below a certain air/fuel ratio, an increase of soot production occurs. This is in agreement with smoke number measurements in a standard single sector flame tube rig without optical access. Reaction zones were identified using chemiluminescence of OH radicals. In addition, the injector flow field was investigated with PIV. A hypothesis regarding the mechanism of pilot smoke formation was made based on these findings. This along with further investigations will form the basis for developing strategies for smoke improvement at elevated pilot only conditions.

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