The History of Turbine Engines

As the aviation industry continues to grow worldwide, billions of passengers travel across the globe every year. Many of these passengers will ride on commercial airliners, those of which rely on turbine engines with turbine blades. Turbine engines, or jet engines, are the most widely used powerplant for commercial flight in the modern day, allowing for many aircraft to achieve the power and propulsion required to traverse long distances with ease. Turbine engines have had a long history since their inception, and countless developments have been made in the form of improved technologies and new engine types. In this blog, we will discuss the history of turbine blades and turbine engines, allowing you to see how they have shaped the history of aviation since their invention.

Prior to the release of the turbine jet engine, a majority of aircraft utilized piston configurations for the production of propulsion. Despite these engines and apparatuses being suitable for flight, they were often limited in their power and capabilities. While the piston engine continued to serve aircraft as the aviation industry began to grow from its infancy, various engineers were already testing turbosuperchargers and related technologies. While Swiss engineer Alfred Buchi patented a supercharger in 2010, General Electric was also building turbines and the US government sought their own turbosupercharger technology.

The US government project was headed by GE engineer Sandord Moss, and they soon created a turbosupercharger that would take advantage of hot exhaust gases to drive an assembly of turbine blades. Additionally, this apparatus was also capable of pressurizing air to match densities closer to the surface, enabling an increase of power through more optimal fuel and air combustion. Meanwhile, in 1930, Royal Air Force Lieutenant Sir. Frank Whittle patented a jet propulsion gas turbine engine which was successfully bench tested in 1937.

Across the globe, a German student named Hans von Ohain began forming a theory on jet propulsion, later patenting a jet propulsion engine with Dr. Max Hahn in 1936. Three years later, Germany made history as the first entirely jet-powered flight was undertaken. Following this success, more advancements were made to the turbine engine, incorporating an axial flow compressor for increasing aircraft speeds. This led to the 1942 development of the Junkers JUMO 004, an axial flow turbojet that was implemented in the world’s first operational jet fighter.

In Britain, around this time, Power Jets Ltd. was awarded a contract by the Air Ministry in 1939 for the design of a flight engine, and the subsequent Whittle W1 engine had its first flight in 1941. With their success, the British shared their technology with the United States, and General Electric quickly began manufacturing copies. GE also worked on creating various improvements to the technology, enhancing performance with around 300 more pounds of thrust produced. In 1942, the first United States jet plane conducted a successful flight.

As World War II began, aviation technology started to rapidly advance. By the end of the war, turbine engines had already been improved with features such as blade cooling, ice prevention, and the variable-area exhaust nozzle. While early turbine models utilized steel for its strength and hardness, such metals could not meet performance requirements during high heat conditions. As a result, numerous studies were conducted in regard to material and alloy improvements, and the directional solidification and single crystal production method were both created.

When designing and constructing a new turbine engine, the design process of a model may take around five years, while the construction itself will take around two. Turbine blades are crucial for the standard operations of the engine and its efficiency, and the complexity of their curves and dimensions will often raise challenges in design. When conducting measurements, optical measurement systems are good for evaluating various surfaces, and reflective elements should be coated while small features may see less accurate results. Blade cross-section measurements may also be used for inspecting various positions, though difficulties may be faced when measuring leading-edge radii, root forms, trailing edge radii, and cooling hole sizes and positions.

As of the present, we currently have four types of turbine engines that are commonly used. These include turbojet, turboprop, turbofan, and turboshaft engines, each of which present varying forms of operations. The turbojet engine was the first type of turbine engine, featuring a compressor, combustion chamber, turbine section, and exhaust. As the most basic form of turbine engine, the turbojet follows the standard set of operations with the intake and compression of air, mixing of air with fuel for combustion, driving of turbine assemblies for power, and the expulsion of gas to increase propulsion. Limited in range, such turbine engine types commonly serve military aviation applications as of the present.

The turboprop, meanwhile, features a gearbox and propeller assembly at the front of the unit. This engine was developed during the 1940s, differing from other types in the fact that exhaust gases from combustion are used for driving the propeller assembly. With their reduction gears, turboprops can achieve optimal propeller performance with slower speeds than the engine RPM. As of the present, such engines serve various small commuter planes and agricultural aircraft.

The turbofan combined various elements of the turbojet and turboprop, also taking advantage of a secondary airflow around the combustion chamber for increased thrust. The turbofan engine features a large fan in the front of the assembly, allowing for the primary flow of air to be compressed and directed towards the combustion chamber. First created in 1941, the turbofan engine now serves as the most widely used option for commercial airliners.

The turboshaft engine is the final common type of turbine engine, and such assemblies feature a turbine and reduction gear driven shaft that is energized with exhaust gases. Rather than producing jet thrust, combustion will typically drive a rotor blade assembly. Turboshafts are often used by helicopters, and the first iteration of such engines was released in 1949.

Since the advent of turbine blades and turbine engines, such technologies have vastly improved to what we now see and rely on today. Aviation Orbit is a premier supplier of aviation, NSN, and electronic parts, and we are your sourcing solution for top quality turbine engine parts such as adapter blades, actuator blade parts, adapter fan blade parts, adapter protractor turbine blades, adapter assembly blade parts, abrasion strip tail rotor blade parts, and much more. If there are any items on our website that you are interested in, fill out and submit an Instant RFQ form and a dedicated account manager will reach out to you with a quote for your comparisons in just 15 minutes or less.


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