29 Dec The History of Turbine Engines
Whether you are a pilot, collector, or passenger on personal aircraft, it’s probably never occurred to you how turbine engines came to be the choice for these machines. After all, planes were once propeller powered, and a lot has changed since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
It Began with Egyptian Roots
It may surprise you to learn that the first jet engine was developed in 150 BCE by Egyptian scientist and mathematician Hero. Designed as a toy, his “aeolipile” was made with a boiler and two hollow bent tubes mounted to a sphere. Steam escaped the boiler, entered one end of the tubes, and exited the other side, which caused the sphere to spin.
Isaac Newton’s laws of motion had a significant impact on what happened next with turbine engines and their development. He was postulating in the late 17th century, and just 100 years later, in 1791, Englishman John Barber patented the first gas turbine engine. His intention was to power a horseless carriage, and he used all of the components we are familiar with today: a compressor, combustion chamber, and turbine.
In 1872, Dr. F. Stolze took Barber’s design a step further and created an engine that used a multistage turbine section and flow compressor.
Shortly thereafter, in 1903, Norwegian Aegidius Elling built the first successful gas turbine using both rotary compressors and turbines.
Modern Use of Turbine Engines
In 1918, American company General Electric launched its gas turbine division with Dr. Stanford Moss at the helm. Moss developed the GE turbosupercharger during World War I, which used exhaust gas from piston engines to drive the turbine wheel. That propelled a centrifugal compressor used for supercharging.
The idea bounced back to the English then, and in 1930, Frank Whittle submitted a patent to use the gas turbine for jet propulsion. Less than a decade later, the Air Ministry contracted Power Jets Ltd. to design a flight engine, and in 1941, the Whittle W1 engine made its first flight mounted on the Gloster Model E28/39 aircraft.
That aircraft achieved a speed of 370 mph with 1,000 pounds of thrust.
The first truly jet-propelled aircraft was the HE-178, powered by the Henkel engine in Germany. That engine helped the aircraft achieve a speed exceeding 400 mph with 1,000 pounds of thrust. The difference in this engine was the centrifugal flow compressor.
Further developments led to a turbine engine that incorporated an axial flow compressor, used in World War II. It included more modern features, such as blade cooling, ice prevention, and a variable-area exhaust nozzle.
Back in the US, Westinghouse Corp. developed an engine that included an axial compressor and annular combustion chamber. Variations of these designs are still used in today’s gas turbine engines.
Into the Future
While the basis of turbines remains unchanged, developments into gas turbine engines continue. Two of the largest engines ever built are on the Airbus A380. They produce 70,000 pounds of thrust each, allowing us to fly in quick comfort to whatever destination we choose.
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