Failure of a Test Rig Operating With Pressurized Gas Bearings: A Lesson on Humility Conference Paper uri icon


  • Copyright © 2015 by ASME. Process fluid lubrication of rotating machinery offers advantage of compactness and efficiency while dispensing with complicated oil lubricant supply systems. Prior work in a dedicated test rig demonstrated the performance of water lubricated radial and thrust bearings into high speed and high load conditions. The application related to a high performance rocket engine turbo pump. The test rig was revamped to operate with gas bearings in a program aiming to measure the performance of gas thrust bearings. The gas bearings for lateral support of the rotor are of hybrid type (hydrostatic/hydrodynamic) with flexure pivots and multiple ports for inlet gas pressurization. The paper details the design of the flexure pivot bearings and predictions of the lateral rotordynamics of the rotor supported on the hybrid gas bearings. Troubleshooting operation of the test rotor supported on the novel gas bearings followed with preliminary runs with the bearings supplied with air at 7.9 bar, then 6.5 bar and at 5.1 bar, and shaft speeds to 25 krpm (surface speed=50 m/s). The data recorded showed a very lightly damped system with a critical speed at ∼6 krpm, and susceptible to excite sub synchronous whirl motions when operating above the first critical speed. Ignoring the initial warnings, the operator persisted in operating the rotor to a high speed of 28 krpm while lowering the air supply pressure to 5.1 bar into the bearings. Suddenly, the shaft experienced large amplitude sub synchronous whirl motions, contacted the bearings, and produced a catastrophic failure. The incident produced much damage including a broken coupling, a twisted rotor, sheared covers, and welded pads into the bearing casing. Post-mortem analysis shows the failure is due to a sub synchronous whirl instability of the first rigid body rotor-bearing mode also exacerbated by the rotor approaching second natural frequency of the rotor-bearing system. The rotordynamics model includes the rotor rigidly connected to a long quill shaft and coupling produces results in agreement with the last vibration data set acquired prior to the incident. The experience demonstrates the need for following proper operating procedures while also paying attention to early evidence that could have prevented the mishap.

author list (cited authors)

  • San Andrés, L., Rohmer, M., & Park, S.

citation count

  • 4

publication date

  • June 2015