The oil-off (also known as loss-of-lubrication or oil-out) performance evaluation of gears is of significant interest to the Department of Defense and various rotorcraft manufacturers, so that the aircraft can safely land in an accidental loss-of-lubricant situation. However, unlike typical gear failure modes such as pitting or bending fatigue where early detection is possible, gear failure in an oil-off situation is very rapid and likely catastrophic. Failures rapidly result in the loss of torque transmission and the inability to control the aircraft.
The diagnosis and prevention of gear tooth and bearing wear requires the discovery and understanding of the particular mechanism of wear, which in turn indicates the best method of prevention. Because a gearbox is a tribologically dependent mechanism, some understanding of gear and bearing tribology is essential for this process. Tribology is the general term for the study and practice of lubrication, friction and wear. If tribology is neglected or considered insignificant, poor reliability and short life will result.
Aircraft transmissions for helicopters, turboprops and geared turbofan aircraft require high reliability and provide several thousand hours of operation between overhauls. In addition, They should be lightweight and have very high efficiency to minimize operating costs for the aircraft.
Today gear drive operations have several options when selecting the proper lubricant for their gearboxes. As in the past, the primary lubricant used for gearbox lubrication is mineral oil. But with the advances in technology, synthetic hydrocarbons (PAOs) and polyglycols show very specific advantages in certain applications. With gear drives becoming more and more precise, it is now also to the benefit of the gear operator to verify that he or she has the proper additive package and viscosity in the lubricant selected. Fig. 1 shoes that a gear oil is a combination of a base oil and specific additives. The base oils can be either mineral oil, a synthetic or even in some cases a combination of the two.
Myth No. 1: Oil Is Oil. Using the wrong oil is a common cause of gear failure. Gears require lubricants blended specifically for the application. For example, slow-speed spur gears, high-speed helical gears, hypoid gears and worm gears all require different lubricants. Application parameters, such as operating speeds, transmitted loads, temperature extremes and contamination risks, must be considered when choosing an oil. Using the right oil can improve efficiency and extend gear life.