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Brief History of Gas Turbine Engine and Trends in The Future Development

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The gas turbine engine is one of the simplest concepts for an engine in history. Even a child blowing up a balloon and releasing it to go ahead has seen how gas turbine or simply jet power works. Today’s jet engine is the logical progress of supercharger and turbocharger. These two concepts gave the concept of connecting the compressor and turbine together and rotating them simultaneously.

The history of gas turbine begins around 150 BC where a scientist named Hero built a toy called as “Aeolipile”. It consists of sphere and bent tubes along with boiler. The steam ejecting out from bent tubes made sphere to rotate as Newton’s third law of motion. Similarly, Leonardo da Vinci made one sketches where a chimney sack use to spin because of hot gases blowing up a chimney.

We should be aware that the gas turbine engine is prominently based on Newton’s first and third law of motion. He also built a steam wagon in 1687. This device propelled by directing steam via nozzle.

In 1791, an Englishmen John Barber acquired patent for his Carriage. This carriage did not have horse. Instead, it consists of propeller, compressor and turbine to propel the carriage.

Further, in 1872, F. Stolze built multistage turbine driven engine with a flow compressor. But, it never run itself.

In early 1930, many enthusiastic scientists pursue the simple concept of jet engine to overwhelm the limitation of piston engines and propeller. Among them was a British young boy, Frank Whittle. In 1928, he researched about jet engine powered aircrafts when he was a cadet. After graduation from Cambridge University, he built his first jet model, but it failed. It took three more years for him to build next model, but it was not powerful enough to power the airplane. Meanwhile, another scientist in Germany named Hans von Ohioan built viable engine with support of Heinkel company. In 1939, they pioneered the first turbojet airplane, Heinkel HE-178. It sustained into the air for brief time. The fascinating thing is that, throughout the aviation history, the first Wright Brother’s flight, the first supersonic flight, the first blind flight and this first turbojet flight, all were very short flight. But Germany were not willing to announce that they invented first successful turbojet engines.

In September 1939, World War II started with Germany invading Poland. In 1939 and 1940, Germany did not showed interest in fostering their massive turbojet engine production. But after the loss against Britain air superiority, they started the massive production. In that moment Heinkel was competing with his arch rival Willly Messerschmitt. In 1941, Messerschmitt won the competition of mass production for Luftwaffe with his more agile and powerful ME-262. It delivered 225 ME-262 to Luftwaffe for close air combat. Even this astonishingly fast ME-262 exhibited its ability in March, 1945 when they intercepted Flying Fortress bombers though they were outnumbered by fifty to one.

Meanwhile in Britain, Frank Whittle built his first feasible turbo jet aircraft collaborating with Rolls Royce in 1941 called as Gloster Meteor aircraft, E28. Similarly, the USA was far behind Europe in gas turbine engine project. But General Hap Arnold, US Army Air corps volunteered to import Whittle’s turbo jet from Britain. They developed P-59 powered by General Electric first ever jet engine of the US. Awfully, it was too slow to serve in military. Then, Lockheed company entered this race to develop jet engine driven aircraft. Kelly Johnson and Willis M. Hawkins of Lockheed company got contract to make P-80. This operational aircraft was 560 miles per hour. Then they constructed F 80 in 1944 and F 84 thunder-belt in 1946.

In 1947, Chuck Yeager flew rocket propelled Bell X-1 flew even faster than sound. Then jet engine is also trying to prove that they can break this sound barrier. Hence, North American YF 100 became the first jet engine aircraft by Pratt and Whitney to penetrate wall of the sound resistance in 1953. Nearly, thirty years of breaking sound barrier, Concorde carried first supersonic passenger in 1976. It was made by Britain and France. After the disastrous crash of Concorde in 2000, all Concorde were eventually grounded.

Further, in 1955 they built b-52 powered by Pratt and Whitney. It compromises 8 turbojet engines. It could cruise at 600 miles per hour and could able to drop bombs from 8 miles up. It was used in Vietnam war in 1955 and in Gulf War in 1990 to drop bombs on ground troop and release their cruise missiles. It was able to carry 80 bombs and travel 35 hours from the Air Base.

Until 1950, jet engines were not used in commercial aircraft as it was viewed as fuel hunger. But, the capability and pros of jet engine could not stop hidden in passenger aircraft industry. In 1952, British introduced their first passenger aircraft, the De Havilland Comet. But, all comets were grounded after two unprecedented crashes due to metal fatigue. Then, the United State brought their first passenger aircraft as Boeing 707 which was highly influenced by Boeing’s b-52 bomber. It started the jet age in the commercial aviation. From 1958, the airlines passenger was thriving, and it multiplied by four within 10 years. Moreover, Boeing in cooperation with Pan American built the gigantic Boeing 747. Similarly, airbus came into competition with A320, A380 and other series.

The future trend of gas turbine is to make the engine fuel efficient, more quieter and more easy handling. Many engineers have come up with differ thoughts and design to make it more powerful and more efficient. For instance, Mike McCune is an engineer working with Pratt and Whitney in such future project. He observed that the front fan of turbofan should spin slow for efficiency whereas the turbine should rotate faster for its higher efficiency. It is because, when fan rotates at sonic levels which will generate drag and ruin the performance. He made a simple gear box which allows all ports to spin at their optimum speed. This reduces fuel consumption by 15% and less fuel burnt means lesser pollution, even, it reduces noise amount by about 75%.

Roy Marquardt built and designed the first RAM JET engine. It was a radical leap in the trend of gas turbine engine. It is simply a metal tube with no moving parts. It merely works on extremely high speed. Instead of compressor, this ram jet itself creates air compression by its high speed. It is first used in SR-71 blackbird by Lockheed company. It could fly at Mach number more than 3 at maximum altitude of 100,000 feet.

In recent years, the gas turbine engine is combined with rocket engine to built NASA’s newest technology to go up to the space. This type of jet is termed as SCRAM JET. It can be proved much cheaper than solely rocket engine. This jet becomes more efficient when it travels at Mach 8 and Mach 10. It can be the cheapest means to access to space in future.

Another new revolution in gas turbine is thrust vectoring. It allows the exhaust to direct at any arbitrary directions causing great maneuverability. It was first introduced in X-31 by NASA, and even F-22 raptors as well as F-35 lightening two also used more sophisticated thrust vectoring concept.

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