This paper studies the circumferential propagation characteristic of unsteady flow that occurs close to stall in a subsonic axial compressor rotor at different Reynolds number (Re). Experimental measurements are first conducted at high Re on the ground, and numerical investigations are carried out at two altitudes to explore the mechanism of circumferential propagation characteristic at different Re. The stability operating range of the compressor rotor gets small with the decrease of Re. Rotating instability (RI) is observed in the blade passage near the stall limit of the test rotor at high Re on the ground, which is characterized by a hump frequency band in the spectrum. Characteristic frequencies of numerical pressure signals at fixed frame are limited in the frequency band of RI at high Re. The cross power spectrums of numerical pressure signals detected in the neighboring passages suggest that circumferential disturbances rotates in the flow fields at different Re. Characteristic frequencies of the flow unsteadiness change with the decrease of Re. At high Re, the circumferential propagation of tip leakage flow unsteadiness is controlled by the interaction of the tip leakage flow and incoming flow, which is linked to RI. When the Re is reduced, the tip leakage flow gets weak and the radial flow from the hub to tip induced by the suction surface flow separation is dominant in the tip region. Thereafter, both the tip leakage flow and radial flow are associated with the blade tip loading, which changes the flow mechanism of RI.

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