What Are the Main Types of Turbine Engines?
Gas powered turbine engines have been a common powerplant option for aerospace applications since the early 20th century, powering countless aircraft for the means of flight. Since their initial debut for powered flight, there have been a number of developments to such technologies. As of the present, there are four main types of turbine engines, each of which presents its own set of advantages and disadvantages. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of each, allowing you to better understand their unique designs and functionalities.
Turbojet engines are considered to be the earliest type, featuring operations that are similar to reciprocating engines in regard to intake, compression, power, and exhaust. The first step of operations for a turbojet is to intake air, and such assemblies rely on a tube that is situated at the front of the engine. As air enters the assembly, it will be directed into the compressor section. At this point, compressor fans consisting of blade sets serve to increase the speed of air, thus also raising pressure substantially through compression.
Once compressed, the air is then directed into the combustion chamber where fuel is mixed with air prior to ignition. Through the combustion of rich fuel and air mixtures, a hot stream of rapidly expanding exhaust gas will force its way out of the combustion chamber and into the turbine assembly. Colliding with a series of turbine blades, the force of exhaust is used to drive the compressor assembly for self-sustaining operations. At this point, the spent gases are then expelled through the exhaust assembly, imparted at a speed and pressure that produces thrust for increased propulsion. Turbojets are known for their simplistic design, and they are capable of achieving high speeds despite their compact construction. Nevertheless, they are often high in fuel consumption, operate poorly during slow speeds, and are loud.
Turboprop engines are somewhat similar in their operation to turbojet engines, albeit feature a large propeller and gearbox assembly to the front of the powerplant. With the energy provided through combustion and turbine blade rotation, the gearbox shaft may be spun for operating the propeller. With this method of operation, propulsion can be created by the propeller assembly, rather than through exhaust. As such, turboprop engines are known to be very fuel efficient, especially when traveling at altitudes of 18,000 to 30,000 feet and at speeds between 250 and 450 knots. Despite this, they often require more maintenance for their gearing systems and are limited in their forward airspeed.
Turbofan engines can be described as a cross between turbojets and turboprops, and they are the most common variation used by modern airliners. Turbofans are most notable by the presence of a ducted fan on the front of the assembly, allowing for additional thrust to be achieved alongside increased airflow and noise reduction. When air is directed into the system, flow will be split into two separate streams. While one stream will move through the compressor and combustion section as is seen in other engine types, the other flow is passed around the engine so that it may be accelerated by a duct fan for increased thrust.
Turbofan engines are known for their fuel efficiency and quiet operation as compared to turbojets, making them quite advantageous. Despite this, they are heavier than turbojets, and feature a larger frontal area. Additionally, they are also inefficient when operating at very high altitudes.
Turboshaft engines are a type that is primarily seen on helicopters, utilizing most produced power for the means of driving a turbine assembly. While following most fuel and air processes as would be seen in a turbojet, power is directed towards a rotor blade shaft for the means of rotating the assembly. This ensures that the large horizontal rotors of a helicopter can be rapidly spun for achieving lift and flight capability. As compared to piston engines, turboshafts are more compact and present a higher power-to-weight ratio. Despite this, they are often loud in operation and face breakdowns with their gear systems over time.
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