Aircraft engines are the driving force behind aviation, powering aircraft to fly through the skies and travel to far-off destinations. With the evolution of aviation, aircraft engines have become increasingly complex and powerful, offering various types of engines for different purposes. In this article, we will examine the five most common types of aircraft engines, including their functions and uses.
Piston engines were the earliest aircraft engines, used for the first 40 years after the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk. These types of aircraft engines work much like typical automobile engines. By mixing fuel with air and burning it, the engine produces heated gas exhaust to move a piston attached to a crankshaft. The crankshaft is directly connected to one or more propellers, which generate thrust. Today, piston engines still power most small general aviation and private aircraft due to their efficiency and lower cost.
Turboprop engines are turbine-based engines that directly connect to a gearing system to turn a propeller, similar to piston propeller engines. The incoming air is compressed before combustion, resulting in higher temperatures and much more power. These types of aircraft engines are highly fuel-efficient and rotate at a mid-range speed. However, their gearing systems have been known to break down quickly because of their weight.
Turbojet engines were the first type of jet engine ever developed, exclusively used for the earliest jets. These aircraft engines work similarly to turboprop engines, except they take in air from the engine's rear side to compress and mix it with fuel, producing hot exhaust. The exhaust then drives a turbine and is discharged at twice the pressure of the atmosphere. Turbojet engines generate gas streams, creating thrust and propulsion. Today, turbojet engines are considered less efficient than turbofan engines due to their high fuel consumption.
Turbofan engines combine the best features of turboprop and turbojet engines to create something better. They have massive fans used to facilitate even better air intake. All the air produced by these fans enters the intake and flows through a generator to produce hot air. Only a small percentage of the air that passes through a turbofan engine reaches the combustion chamber. The rest passes through a low-pressure compressor, is mixed with the fuel, and injected directly into the engine. The objective of a turbofan engine is to achieve a higher level of thrust and performance while maintaining the same level of fuel consumption. This type of aircraft engine powers the vast majority of commercial airliners.
Turboshaft engines are similar to turboprop engines but are designed to turn a transmission, which is connected to the helicopter's rotor system. The turboshaft engine's design allows the helicopter rotor's speed to rotate independently of the gas generator's speed. That means that even as the gas generator's speed declines, the type of aircraft engine can remain constant. Turboshaft engines can also modulate the power that a helicopter produces, making them ideal for powering helicopters.
In conclusion, understanding the different types of aircraft engines is essential for anyone interested in aviation. Each type of engine has its own unique characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. While some aircraft engines are more efficient than others, each type serves a specific purpose and plays a critical role in the world of aviation.