Stall inception has been studied in two low speed compressors (a single-stage and a three-stage) and in a high speed three-stage compressor, using temporally and spatially resolved measurements. In all three machines, rotating stall was preceded by a period in which small amplitude waves were observed travelling around the circumference of the machine at a speed slightly less than the fully developed rotating stall cell speed. The waves evolved smoothly into rotating stall without sharp changes in phase or amplitude, implying that, in the machines tested, the prestall waves and the fully developed rotating stall are two stages of the same phenomenon. The growth rate of these disturbances was in accord with that predicted by current analytical models. The prestall waves were observed both with uniform and with distorted inflow, but were most readily discerned with uniform inflow. Engineering uses and limitations of these waves are discussed.

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