A combined experimental and computational test programme, with two low pressure ratio aero-engine fans, has been used to identify the flow mechanisms at stall inception and the subsequent stall cell growth. The two fans have the same rotor tip clearance, annulus design and downstream stators, but different levels of tip loading. The measurement data show that both fans stall via spike-type inception, but that the growth of the stall cell, and the final cell size, is different in each fan. The computations, reproducing both the qualitative and quantitative behaviour of the steady-state and transient measurements, are used to identify the flow mechanisms at the origin of stall inception. In one fan, spillage of tip leakage flow upstream of the leading edge plane is responsible. In the other, sudden growth of casing corner separation blockage leads to stall. These two mechanisms are in accord with the findings from core compressors. However, the transonic aerodynamics and low hub-to-tip radius ratio of the fans leads to the following two findings: first, the casing corner separation is driven by shock-boundary layer interaction; second, the spanwise loading distribution of the fan determines whether the spike develops into full-span or part-span stall and both types of behaviour are represented in the present work. Finally, the axial momentum flux of the tip clearance flow is shown to be a useful indicator of the leakage jet spillage mechanism. A simple model is provided that links the tip loading, stagger and solidity with the tip clearance axial momentum flux, thereby allowing the aerodynamicist to connect, qualitatively, design parameters with the stall behaviour of the fan.

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