I hear the term "compressor stall" when talking about turbine engine difficulties.

What exactly does this mean? And how does a pilot diagnose and fix it - specifically, would there be any changes in the engine instruments compared to normal operation?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ That's a lot of questions, I suggest you split them in multiple ones, all together seem a tad too broad for an SE site. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ This is a great introductory write-up on the subject, which covers every question you asked: b737.org.uk/enginemalfunctions.htm $\endgroup$
    – Waked
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Compressor stall is already explained at several places on this site, e.g. aviation.stackexchange.com/a/11552/524, but I don't think any of them mentions what it looks like on the instrument panel. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ This question was cited by this video. $\endgroup$
    – Neil G
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 19:59

2 Answers 2


The spinning blades in the compressor stage of a jet engine or turbo fan are themselves airfoils, like the aircraft's wings. The operation of the engine depends on the smooth flow of air over the blades.

Just like a wing, an individual blade, or a small component of one, can experience an airfoil "stall", where the air flow over the blade separates into a cell of "stuck", highly turbulent air behind the blade, and the air flows around the cell instead of smoothly around the blade.

When a flow separation occurs, the airfoil's ability to push the air in proper direction at the right flow rate—and thereby contribute to the compression of air behind the fan assembly—is inhibited.

Since these blades are rotating, the blade quickly moves away from the packet of stagnant air. Of course the stalled air packet has some momentum from the intake air, and it will experience a drift along with the rotating blade, but it is not moving with the average flow of the air through the engine anymore.

Thus the next blade spinning round tends to encounter the stalled air packet. If the stalled air cell is not particularly large, it may be absorbed by the air flow at this stage and dissipated. Alternatively, it might be large enough to stall the subsequent blade as well. At this point, it is called a "rotational stall".

If the stall continues to propagate, the ability of the fan stage to deliver air to the subsequent compression stage is impeded, and it will lead to an abrupt drop in pressure inside the combustion chamber. This causes a reduction in available oxygen for combustion. The engine's performance, measured by the thrust delivered, is strongly impaired, and there is likely to be a lot of unburnt fuel remaining after the oxygen in the compressor is exhausted. That unburnt fuel may ignite in a bright exterior flame as it escapes out the back of the combustion chamber and mixes with the oxygen-rich bypass flow, or in the case of a jet engine, after it exits the engine altogether.

The drop in back pressure in the compressor will, under normal conditions, enable the compressor fan blades to begin operating as proper air foils again.

An alternative type of stall is a compressor surge. In this case, the problem is caused by unexpectedly high pressure in the combustion chamber (or in the compressor), which forces its way forward as well as backwards, against the incoming flow rate. Again, this disrupts the operation of the compressor blades as airfoils.

See Advanced Control of Turbofan Engines by Hanz Richte


A compressor stall occurs when there is a disruption or breakdown of airflow through a turbine engine. It can usually be identified by a loud bang, pop, or buzzing sound. Expect to feel a loss of thrust, see your RPM winding back, and your EGT/ITT/FTIT either increase or decrease based on your altitude.

Anything that causes a disruption of airflow can cause a compressor stall. Some of the more popular things are engine outside or near the edge of its envelope, bird strikes or ingestion, hot exhaust from a preceding jet, certain maneuvering, etc.

In most engines you can clear the stall and/or catch it in idle by retarding the throttle. An additional step in the T-38 is to push the ENGINE START button. The F-16 has a few more steps based on if the stalls are happening during AB or non-AB operation. In general though, retard the throttle to either MIL or IDLE and see if this stops the stalls; if not, shut the engine down and perform an airstart.

In the event of a compressor stall with any aircraft it's going to be land as soon as possible.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Not in any aircraft; 4-engined aircraft may continue with the engine at idle or shut down, fuel permitting. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ Just a historical note from the 1990s. The most common cause of compressor stalls in early versions of the Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines powering the 747-100/200 was the use of excessive reverse when the airplane had slowed too much for the degree of reverse used. This was exacerbated if it was a high-time engine. Typically a compressor stall in these engines back then was not written up. When the GE engines came online, there were far few compressor stalls, but when they occurred they were always written up because the probability of some damage was much higher. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:08

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