Sleeve valve

Sleeve valve

The sleeve valve is a type of valve mechanism for piston engines, distinct from the more common poppet valve. They saw use in some pre-World War II luxury cars, sports cars, the Willys-Knight car and light truck, and saw substantial use in aircraft engines of the 1940s, such as the Napier Sabre and Bristol Hercules and Centaurus. They subsequently fell from use due to advances in poppet-valve technology (sodium cooling) and to their tendency to burn considerable amounts of lubricating oil or to seize due to lack of it.


A sleeve valve consists of one or more machined sleeves. It fits between the piston and the cylinder wall in the cylinder of an internal combustion engine where it rotates and/or slides, ports (holes) in the side of the valve(s) aligning with the cylinder's inlet and exhaust ports at the appropriate stages in the engine's cycle.

Types of sleeve valve

The first successful sleeve valve was patented by Charles Yale Knight, and used twin sleeves. It was used in some luxury automobiles, but was noted for its high oil consumption.

The Burt-McCullum sleeve valve as used by the Scottish company Argyll for its cars, and later adopted by Bristol for its radial aircraft engines, used a single sleeve which rotated around a timing axle set at 90 degrees to the cylinder axle. Mechanically simpler and more rugged, the Burt-McCullum valve had the additional advantage of reducing oil consumption (compared to other sleeve valve designs), while retaining the rational combustion chambers possible in the Knight system.

A small number of designs used a sleeve in the cylinder head instead of the cylinder proper, providing a more "classic" layout compared to traditional poppet valve engines. This design also had the advantage of not having the piston within the sleeve, although in practice this appears to have had little practical value. On the downside, this arrangement limited the size of the ports to that of the cylinder head, whereas in-cylinder sleeves could have ports of much larger size.



The main advantages of the sleeve valve engine are:

* An increase in volumetric efficiency due to very large port openings. An additional advantage of the system is that the size of the ports can be readily controlled. This is of importance when an engine runs over a wide range of RPM, as the speed at which air can enter and exit the cylinder is defined by the size of the duct leading to the cylinder and varies according to the cube of the RPM. In other words, at higher RPM the engine typically requires larger ports that remain open for a greater proportion of the cycle, something that is fairly easy to arrange with sleeve valves, but difficult in a poppet valve system.

*The single sleeve valve offers laminar exhaust scavenging and vortex fuel mixture ignition; when the intake ports open, the fuel air mixture enters tangentially to the cylinder. This creates laminar exhaust scavenging, as opposed to turbulent poppet valve scavenging, which mixes the exhaust - fresh air fuel mixture intake to a greater degree. A spinning fuel air mixture vortex is also created at TDC which greatly improves ignition.

* The combustion chamber formed with the sleeve at the top of its stroke is ideal for complete, detonation-free combustion of the charge, as it does not have to contend with compromised chamber shape and hot exhaust (poppet) valve(s).

*No springs are involved in the sleeve valve system, therefore the power needed to operate the valve remains largely constant with the engine's RPM meaning that the system can be used at very high speeds with no penalty for doing so. A problem with high-speed engines which use poppet valves is that as engine speed increases, the speed at which the valve moves also has to increase. This in turn increases the loads involved due to the inertia of the valve, which has to be opened quickly, brought to a stop, then reversed in direction and closed and brought to a stop again. Large valves that allow good air-flow have considerable mass and require a strong spring to overcome the opening inertia. At some point, the valve spring reaches its resonance frequency, causing a compression wave to oscillate within the spring, which in turn causes it to become effectively shorter and therefore unable to properly close the valve. This "valve float" can result in the valve not closing before the cam comes around to open it again, and in some engines it may even strike the top of the piston as it rises. In addition, camshaft, pushrods, and valve rockers can be dispensed with in a sleeve valve design, as the sleeve valves are generally driven by a single gear powered from the crankshaft. For an aircraft engine this produced desirable reductions in weight and complexity.

*Another advantage of the sleeve valve in early automotive applications (Knight engine) was longevity. Prior to the advent of leaded gasolines, poppet-valve engines typically required grinding of the valves and valve seats after 20,000 to 30,000 miles (32,000 to 48,000 km) of service. Sleeve valves did not suffer from the wear and recession caused by the repetitive impact of the poppet valve against its seat. Sleeve valves were also subjected to less intense heat buildup than poppet valves, owing to their greater area of contact with other large metal surfaces. In the Knight engine, carbon build-up actually helped to improve the sealing of the sleeves, the engines being said to "improve with use", in contrast to poppet valve engines, which lose compression and power as valves and valve stems/guides wear.

*A minor advantage includes the fact the cylinder head is not required to house valves, therefore allowing the sparkplug to be placed in the best possible location for efficient ignition of the combustion mixture

Most of these advantages were evaluated and established during the 1920's by Sir Harry Ricardo, possibly the sleeve-valve engine's greatest advocate. He conceded however, that these advantages were significantly eroded as fuels improved up to and during World War II, and sodium-cooled exhaust valves were introduced in high output aircraft engines.


The sleeve valve's one major disadvantage is that perfect sealing is difficult to achieve. In a poppet valve engine, the piston possesses piston rings (often at least 3 and sometimes as many as 8) which form a seal with the cylinder bore. During the "breaking in" period (known as "running-in" in the UK) any imperfections in one are scraped into the other, resulting in a good fit. This type of "breaking in" is not possible on a sleeve valve engine, however, because the piston and sleeve move in different directions and in some systems even rotate in relation to one another. Unlike a traditional design, the imperfections in the piston do not always line up with the same point on the sleeve. In the 1940s this was not a major concern because the poppet valves of the time typically leaked appreciably more than they do today, so that oil consumption was poor in either case.

The high oil consumption associated with the Knight double sleeve valve was fixed with the Burt-McCullum single sleeve valve as perfected by Bristol. At TDC, the single sleeve valve rotates in relation to the piston. This prevents boundary lubrication problems, as piston ring ridge wear at TDC and BDC does not occur. The Hercules top end was rated at 50,000 hrFact|date=March 2008 at wide open throttle.


Charles Yale Knight

In 1901 Knight bought an air-cooled, single cylinder three-wheeler whose noisy valves annoyed him. He believed that he could design a better engine and did so, inventing his double sleeve principle in 1904. Backed by Chicago entrepreneur L.B. Kilbourne, a number of engines were constructed followed by the "Silent Knight" touring car which was shown at the 1906 Chicago Auto Show.

Knight's design had two cast-iron sleeves per cylinder, one sliding inside the other with the piston inside the inner sleeve. The sleeves were operated by small connected rods actuated by an eccentric shaft. They had ports cut out at their upped ends. The design was remarkably quiet, and the sleeve valves needed little attention. It was, however, more expensive to manufacture due to the precision grinding required on the sleeves' surfaces. It also used more oil at high speeds and was harder to start in cold weather. [cite book | last = Petryshyn | first = Jaroslav | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Made Up To A Standard: Thomas Alexander Russell and the Russell Motor Car | publisher = General Store Publishing House | date = 2000 | location = | pages = pp. 65-66 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 1894263251]

Although he was initially unable to sell his Knight Engine in the US, a trip to Europe secured several luxury car firms as customers willing to pay his expensive premiums. He first patented the design in Britain in 1908. As part of the licensing agreement, 'Knight' was to be included in the car's name.

Among the companies using Knight's technology were Gabriel Voisin (in his Avions Voisin cars), Daimler (in their V-12 "Double Six", from 1909-1930), Panhard (1911-39), Mercedes (1909-24), Willys (as the Willys-Knight, plus the associated Falcon-Knight), Stearns, Mors, Peugeot, and Belgium's Minerva company, some thirty companies in all. [Georgano, G.N. "Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930". (London: Grange-Universal, 1985).] Itala also experimented with sleeve valves.

Upon Knight's return to America he was able to get some firms to use his design; here his brand name was "Silent Knight" (1905-1907) — the selling point was that his engines were quieter than those with standard poppet valves. The best known of these were the F.B. Stearns Company of Cleveland, which sold a car named the Stearns-Knight, and the Willys firm which offered a car called the Willys-Knight, which was produced in far greater numbers than any other sleeve-valve car.


The Burt-McCullum sleeve valve consisted of a single sleeve which was given a combination of up-and-down and partial rotary motion. It was developed in about 1909 and was first used in the 1911 Argyll car. Its greatest success was in Bristol's large aircraft engines, and was also used in the Napier Sabre and Rolls-Royce Eagle aircraft engines. The single valve system also cured the high oil consumption associated with the Knight double sleeve valve. [cite book | last = Hillier | first = Victor A.W. | authorlink = | coauthors = F.W. Pittuck | title = Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Technology | publisher = Nelson Thornes | date = 1991 | location = | pages = p. 36 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0748705317]

A number of sleeve valve aircraft engines were developed following a seminal 1927 research paper from the RAE by Harry Ricardo. This paper outlined the advantages of the sleeve valve, and suggested that poppet valve engines would not be able to offer power outputs much beyond 1500 hp (1,100 kW). Napier and Bristol began the development of sleeve valve engines that would eventually result in two of the most powerful piston engines in the world, the Napier Sabre and Bristol Centaurus.

Potentially the most powerful of all sleeve-valve engines (that never reached production) was the Rolls-Royce Crecy, a 60 degree, V-12 two-stroke direct injected force-scavenged (turbocharged) aero-engine of 26.1 litres capacity. It achieved a very high specific output, and surprisingly good SFC - in 1945 the single cylinder test-engine (E65) produced the equivalent of 5,000 HP (192 BHP/Litre) when water injected, although the full V12 would probably have been initially type rated at circa 2,500 HP.

Following World War II the sleeve valve disappeared from use, as the previous problems with sealing and wear on poppet valves had been remedied by the use of better materials, and the inertia problems with the use of large valves were reduced by using several smaller valves instead, giving increased flow area and reduced mass. Up to that point, the single sleeve valve won every contest against the poppet valve hands down in comparison of power to displacement. The difficulty of nitride hardening, then finish grinding the sleeve valve for truing the circularity, may be a factor of its lack of commercial applications.

Modern usage

The sleeve valve has begun to make something of a comeback, due to modern materials and newer and dramatically better engineering tolerances and construction techniques which produce a sleeve valve that leaks very little oil. However, most advanced engine research is concentrated on improving entirely different designs of internal combustion engine such as the Wankel.

It is rumouredFact|date=March 2008 Keith Duckworth (of Cosworth F1 racing engine fame) experimented with a single-cylinder sleeve-valve test engine when looking at Cosworth DFV replacements.

team engine

Sleeve valves have occasionally been used on steam engines, for example the SR Leader Class.

ee also

* D slide valve
* Piston valve
* Corliss valve


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