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I see helicopters having air filters in their intakes, but jet fighters and commercial airliners don't seem to have anything in their air intakes. Isn't it true that even a tiniest particle can damage the fan blades rotating at such high speed? What if the aircraft has to fly through a dusty area?

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2 Answers 2

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Dust does damage the blades but the effect is like sand blasting; it takes some time to cause structural damage. The turbine engines of airliners can take some dust (by design) but also get extensive maintenance regularly. And if they do get caught in a dust storm they should get out ASAP and get the engines inspected.

The biggest danger dust-wise is volcanic ash as that will adhere to the turbine blades behind the combustion chamber and potentially shut the engine down due to compressor stall. This happened with British Airways Flight 9 where all 4 engines failed. This is why a volcano can shut down Europe airspace.

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Also, jet airplanes spend most of their time above the haze line, where the air is fairly clean (not much dust or other particulates, volcanos excepted of course). Helicopters usually fly near the surface in much dirtier air. –  dvnrrs May 25 at 13:07
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Layman comment: On Aircraft the bulk of the thrust comes from airflow that would have to pass through the turbine/bypass ... i.e. the 'filter' would impede the thrust. In a Helicopter, the thrust comes from the rotors, not the turbine. To make the analogy complete, the helicopter would have to put a filter over the rotors as well as the turbine! –  rolfl May 25 at 18:35

In addition to Rachet Freak answer I'll add that helicopter engines are subject to much dirtier air. Aircraft operate from runways which are relatively clean. Due to their speed, most dust and debris that is kicked up is behind the engine inlet so it is not sucked in.

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Helicopters hover and land vertically and therefore their engines ingest air contaminated with kicked up dust. Especially when operating outside paved surfaces this results in considerable pollution. A filter is much more useful here.

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How about MV-22 Osprey? It kicks up a lot of dust when vertical landing, but it doesn't appear to be equipped with filters. –  ashpool May 28 at 17:17
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@ashpool the MV-22 is equipped with Engine Air Particle Separators, fancy filters. –  DeltaLima May 28 at 20:06

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