What Are the Common Types of Aircraft Gas Turbine Engines?

The aircraft gas turbine engine is a powerful apparatus, capable of harnessing the combustion of fuel and air mixtures for the means of generating the propulsive force and thrust needed for flight. While coming in various forms, a typical gas turbine engine will feature an air inlet, compressor, combustor or combustion chamber, turbine blade section, exhaust section, and various accessories or other aerospace components. Turbine engines will also share common assemblies for their cooling, fuel system operations, or pressurization, often implementing oil cooler parts, lubrication system equipment, and other various components. Nevertheless, various turbine engine types have come about over the years with slightly different designs, those of which are the turbojet, turbofan, turboprop, and turboshaft.

The turbojet engine is one of the earliest forms, originally serving as the general name for all similar engine types. The turbojet engine was first invented prior to World War II, acting as the most simplistic type of the four. While being a functional engine for flight, the turbojet was known for its issues with noise and fuel consumption when operating at the common speeds of airliners. As such, they are often reserved for military applications in the present day.

A typical turbojet engine consists of the compressor, combustion chamber, turbine assembly, and exhaust section. The compressor is charged with pressurizing and speeding up air as it moves into the combustion chamber, and a fuel inlet and igniter serve to combust the created mixture. As exhaust gases expand and force their way through the turbine blade assembly, the resulting rotation causes the compressor to be driven for sustained operations. The exhaust also serves to increase thrust, thus allowing the aircraft to maintain sufficient propulsion.

The turboprop engine was developed in the late 1930s, though would not be implemented onto an aircraft until 1945. The turboprop engine is one that takes advantage of an air propeller and reduction gearbox, allowing for energy harnessed from combustion to be used for driving a propeller assembly. The addition of reduction gearing is paramount for the efficient operation of such engines, allowing for optimal propeller performance to be reached at lower speeds when compared with the engine operating RPM. Generally, aircraft with turboprop engines are best suited for traveling between 18,000 and 30,000 feet while maintaining a speed between 250 and 400 mph. While such engines are quite fuel efficient, they are limited in their forward airspeed and have heavier construction as compared to other types.

The turbofan engine is the third primary type, combining various features of both the turbojet and turboprop. With the use of secondary air streams and duct fan assemblies for routing airflow around the combustion chamber, turbofan engines are capable of achieving increased thrust. While a turboprop may rely on an air propeller assembly for operations, the turbofan takes advantage of a singular fan or a set of fans that produce a large amount of thrust. Commonly featuring more than one shaft in the engine, turbofan engines are often the choice of some for their optimal fuel consumption and quiet operations during typical speed ranges. While having various advantages, turbofans are known for being heavy, large in construction, and inefficient at high altitudes. Nevertheless, turbofans are commonly found on many airliners.

The turboshaft engine is the final common gas turbine engine type, initially built in 1949. Rather than using its shaft and power to produce thrust, the turboshaft drives a turbine assembly. Generally, such engines are common for helicopters for the operations of their rotors, or may come in the form of APUs on larger aircraft. An APU is important for various aircraft for electrical power generation and bleed air, also serving as a backup generator. While a turboshaft engine is much more powerful than a piston engine for its power-to-weight ratio, such engine types are quite loud and have complex gear systems that are prone to breakdowns.

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