The gas turbine engine, also known as a combustion turbine, is an internal combustion engine type that has revolutionized aviation as we know it. With the invention of aircraft turbine engines and their subsequent implementation across units, aircraft obtained the ability to produce great amounts of thrust and power. With this newfound capability, aircraft of all types improved international travel, flight speed, high altitude performance, and more. In this blog, we will discuss how turbine engines work, also exploring how their functionalities benefit a wide variety of aircraft types.
Before the advent of turbine engines, most early aircraft relied on piston engine types. Also known as reciprocating engines, piston engines rely on a number of cylinders and pistons to ignite fuel and drive propellers so that thrust may be produced. While such engines prove satisfactory for smaller aircraft performance and are much less complex than turbine engines, they are unable to meet certain advantages of the turbine engine such as smooth and vibration-free operation. Piston powered aircraft may also not perform at altitudes as high, mostly remaining at around 12,000 feet as compared to 30,000 feet averages of turbine powered aircraft. These capabilities were mostly made possible due to the design of the turbine engine, utilizing a gas compressor to provide oxygen rich air for combustion.
Despite the presence of multiple gas turbine engine types, all operate with the same basic principles. At the front of the engine, a large fan is placed in the direction of incoming air, forcing it to enter the internal chambers of the engine. Within the engine, a gas compressor raises the overall pressure of the air with the use of blades attached to a aircraft shaft. The blades of the compressor revolve at high speeds, and air is compressed and squeezed between them. Once air is sufficiently compressed, fuel is sprayed and mixed into the air through nozzles, creating a rich formula of fuel and air. At this point in time, the fuel and air mixture is moved into the combustion chamber of the engine and is lit with spark plugs and ignited. This causes the mixture to erupt in hot, rapidly expanding gases that rush out of the rear-end of the engine through a nozzle. The force of the exhausting gases is great, and it causes a forward thrust of the aircraft to achieve propulsion and flight.
As surrounding air pressure continuously decreases as an aircraft increases altitude, it becomes more difficult for engines to obtain sufficient oxygen rich air to optimally combust fuel and produce thrust. That is why gas turbine engines are revolutionary in design, allowing for engines to obtain better performance at extreme altitudes, all while making travelling greater distances at higher speeds possible. Depending on the needs of the aircraft and their type, a number of gas turbine engines may be implemented. Since their initial release in the 20th century, the primary gas turbine engine types available include turbojets, turboprops, turbofans, turboshafts, and ramjets.
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