What’s an aviation pump?

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An airlift pump uses air to pump fluid without mechanical contact. It is useful in situations where the liquid is caustic or mixed with an abrasive. Buoyancy and fluid pressure enable its operation. Common uses include water wells and dredging operations.

An airlift pump is a piece of equipment that has no mechanical contact with the fluid being operated on. These devices typically use a fan or compressor to pump blasts of air into a tube immersed in a fluid. Air rises through the tube, which pushes some of the liquid up and creates suction at the suction end. An airlift pump can be useful in any situation where the liquid is caustic or mixed with an abrasive that could damage a conventional pump. Some common uses for an aviation pump are in a sand pit or for dredging operations, both of which can involve water mixed with a potentially harmful abrasive material.

Two of the principles that enable aviation pumps to operate are buoyancy and fluid pressure. When a pipe is submerged and air is pumped through it, buoyancy can cause the lighter air to push some of the liquid up the pipe. This creates fluid pressure, which can draw more liquid through the suction. A typical aviation pump will inject air in short bursts, which allows fluid pressure to build but does not completely fill the hose with air. If the tubing in an airlift apparatus does not maintain alternating columns of air and liquid, suction will typically fail and the device may need to be reset.

A common use of airlift pumps is in water wells. The water will in some cases be contained in a substrate of sand, which can make it difficult to extract with a traditional pump. Sand particles suspended in water will tend to foul the moving parts inside a pump, which can lead to premature failure and costly repairs. Airlift pumps provide a solution to this as no moving parts ever contact the water or substrate material.

In a typical airlift water well, the pipe apparatus will extend far below the water table. Common designs involve extending pipes twice below the surface to the water itself. This extra clearance can allow enough fluid pressure to build up to push water out of the ground.

Another use of an airlift pump is in dredging operations, both for silt removal and nautical archeology operations. Conventional pumps could be contaminated by silt in dredging operations or damage objects of archaeological interest. The main advantage of an airlift pump is that the pump itself cannot be fouled by abrasives, although it can also be useful because there is no ability for a pump to abrade delicate materials that are lifted up from a seabed.

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