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Aircraft Propulsion

Flying machines obtain their propulsion by the rearward acceleration of matter. This is an
application of Newton's third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In propeller-driven aircraft, the propulsive medium is the ambient air which is accelerated
to the rear by the action of the propeller. The acceleration of the air that passes through the
engine provides only a secondary contribution to the thrust.
In the case of turbojet and ramjet engines, the ambient air is again the propulsive medium,
but the thrust is obtained by the acceleration of the air as it passes through the engine. After
being compressed and heated in the engine, this air is ejected rearward from the engine at a
greater velocity than it had when it entered.
Rockets carry their own propulsive medium. The propellants are burned at high pressure in
a combustion chamber and are ejected rearward to produce thrust.
In every case, the thrust provided is equal to the mass of propulsive medium per second
multiplied by the increase in its velocity produced by the propulsive device. This is
substantially Newton's second law. See also Fluid flow.
The airplane lift-drag ratio L/D is a primary factor that determines the thrust required from
the propulsion system to fly a given airplane. To sustain flight, the airplane lift must be
equal to airplane gross weight, and the engine thrust must be equal to the airplane drag. The
higher the lift-drag ratio, the more efficient is the airplane. A sharp reduction in L/D occurs
with increase in flight Mach number in the vicinity of a Mach number of unity, and this is
reflected in a sharp increase in the thrust required for flight. Flight Mach number is the ratio
of the airplane speed to the speed of sound in the ambient atmosphere. At standard sea-level
conditions, the speed of sound is 773 mi/h (346 m/s).
The competition among nations and among commercial airlines has created a continuing
demand for increased flight speed. The reduction in aircraft L/D that accompanies an
increase in speed requires an increase in engine thrust for an airplane of a given gross
weight. For a given engine specific weight, an increase in required engine thrust results in
an increase in engine weight and hence a reduction in fuel load and payload that an airplane
of a given gross weight can carry. If the engine weight becomes so large that no fuel can be
carried by the airplane, the airplane has zero flight range regardless of the efficiency of the
engine. At some speed before this point is reached, it becomes advantageous to shift to an
engine type that has a lower specific engine weight even at the cost of an increased specific
fuel consumption.
At low subsonic flight speeds, the piston-type reciprocating engine, because of its low
specific fuel consumption, provides the best airplane performance in terms of payload and
flight range. As flight speed increases, specific weight of reciprocating engines increases
because of falling propeller efficiency. This effect, coupled with reduction in L/D which

accompanies increase in flight speed, results in the weight of reciprocating engines

becoming excessive at a flight speed of about 400 mi/h (180 m/s). At about this speed it is
advantageous to shift to the lighter-weight turboprops even if the efficiency of the latter is
poorer. At about 550 mi/h (245 m/s) it is advantageous to shift from the turboprop to the
lighter but less efficient turbojet. Intermediate between the turboprop and turbojet in the

A jet engine having a turbine-driven compressor and developing thrust from the exhaust
of hot gases.
An aircraft in which a turbojet is used.
Jet engine in which a turbine-driven compressor draws in and compresses air, forcing it into
a combustion chamber into which fuel is injected. Ignition causes the gases to expand and
to rush first through the turbine and then through a nozzle at the rear. Forward thrust is
generated as a reaction to the rearward momentum of the exhaust gases. The turbofan or
fanjet, a modification of the turbojet, came into common use in the 1960s. In the turbofan,
some of the incoming air is bypassed around the combustion chamber and is accelerated to
the rear by a turbine-operated fan. It moves a much greater mass of air than the simple
turbojet, providing advantages in power and economy.
A gas turbine power plant used to propel aircraft, where the thrust is derived within the
turbo-machinery in the process of accelerating the air and products of combustion out an
exhaust jet nozzle. See also Gas turbine.
In its most elementary form (see illustration), the turbojet operates on the gas turbine or
Brayton thermodynamic cycle. The working fluid, air drawn into the inlet of the engine, is
first compressed in a turbo-compressor with a pressure ratio of typically 10:1 to 20:1. The
high-pressure air then enters a combustion chamber, where a steady flow of a hydrocarbon
fuel is introduced in either spray or vapor form and burned continuously at constant
pressure. The exiting stream of hot high-pressure air, at an average temperature whose
maximum value may range typically from 1800 to 2800F (980 to 1540C), is then
expanded through a turbine, where energy is extracted to power the compressor. Because
heat had been added to the air at high pressure, there is a surplus of energy left in the stream
of combustion products that exits from the turbine and that can be harnessed for propulsion.
See also Brayton cycle; Gas turbine.

Basic turbojet engine with axial-flow components.

Turbojets have retained a small niche in the aircraft propulsion spectrum, where their
simplicity and low cost are of paramount importance, such as in short-range expendable
military missiles, or where their light weight may be an overriding consideration, such as
for lift jets in prospective vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

Jet propulsion
Definition.- Propulsion derived from the rearward expulsion of matter in a
jet stream, especially propulsion by jet engines

Propulsion of a body by means of force resulting from discharge of a fluid jet. This fluid jet
issues from a nozzle and produces a reaction (Newton's third law) to the force exerted
against the working fluid in giving it momentum in the jet stream. Turbojets, ramjets, and
rockets are the most widely used jet-propulsion engines. See also Ramjet; Turbojet.
In each of these propulsion engines a jet nozzle converts potential energy of the working
fluid into kinetic energy. Hot high-pressure gas escapes through the nozzle, expanding in
volume as it drops in pressure and temperature, thus gaining rearward velocity and
momentum. This process is governed by the laws of conservation of mass, energy, and
momentum and by the pressure-volume-temperature relationships of the gas-state equation
Reaction propulsion in which the propulsion unit obtains oxygen from the air, as
distinguished from rocket propulsion, in which the unit carries its own oxygen-producing
material. In connection with aircraft propulsion, the term refers to a gasoline (or other fuel)
turbine jet unit that discharges hot gas through a tail pipe and a nozzle that provides a thrust
that propels the aircraft.

JET PROPULSION.- propulsion of a body by a force developed in reaction to the

ejection of a high-speed jet of gas.
Jet Propulsion Engines
The four basic parts of a jet engine are the compressor, turbine, combustion chamber, and
propelling nozzles. Air is compressed, then led through chambers where its volume is
increased by the heat of fuel combustion. On emergence it spins the compression rotors,
which in turn act on the incoming air.
In the combustion chamber of a jet propulsion engine the combustion of a fuel mixture
generates expanding gases, which escape through an orifice to form the jet. Newton's third
law of motion requires that the force that causes the high-speed motion of the jet of gas
have a reaction force that is equal in magnitude and oppositely directed to push on the jet
propulsion engine. Hence the term "reaction motor" is often applied to jet-propulsion
The thermal jet engine operates with a continuous blast, but intermittent duct jet propulsion
proceeds by a series of pulses, or intermittent explosions. The ramjet, or continuous duct,
engine relies on its own forward motion to compress the air that enters it. Although highly
efficient, it is designed to operate only after high speed has been attained through the use of
some other power source, typically a rocket. The scramjet, or supersonic-combustion
ramjet, engine is designed to operate at hypersonic speed (above Mach 5), using hydrogen
for fuel; in theory, a scramjet-propelled craft could achieve orbital speed, with an efficiency
three times that of liquid- or solid-fuel rockets. In addition, without the need to carry
oxygen, an air-breathing, scramjet-powered vehicle can carry a greater payload than a
rocket-powered one.
There are various thrust-augmentation methods that can be used to increase the effective
driving force of jet engines: the afterburner, water-injection, and air bleed-off methods. An
afterburner uses the exhaust gases from the engine for additional combustion, with resulting
higher compression; however, it consumes large amounts of fuel. Injection of water into the
air-compressor inlet also increases the thrust, but can be used only at take-off because of
the high water consumption. Air bleed-off, sometimes called the fan augmentation method,
also makes more efficient use of air otherwise wasted.
Development of the Reaction Engine
The first reaction engine, the eolipile (a ball that rotated as a reaction to escaping steam),
was constructed by the inventor Heron (or Hero) of Alexandria. Developments through the
centuries have resulted in two general types of reaction machines, the true rocket and the
airstream engine, commonly known as the jet engine. Unlike a jet engine, a rocket engine
carries with it chemicals that enable it to burn its fuel without drawing air from an outside
source. Thus a rocket can operate in outer space, where there is no atmosphere. Fritz von
Opel, a German automobile manufacturer, made the first flight entirely by rocket power in
1939. The American R. H. Goddard did much of the important pioneer work in modern
rocket development.

The second category of reaction motor, the jet engine, is a development of the late 18thcentury gas turbine engines, which directed combustion gases against the blades of a
turbine wheel. Not until 1908 was it suggested that an aircraft could be driven by jet
propulsion. Ren Lorin, a French engineer, proposed using a reciprocating engine to
compress air, mix it with fuel, and thus propel the aircraft by the pulses of hot gas produced
by combustion of the mixture. Henri Coanda, a Romanian engineer, experimented with a
reaction-powered aircraft in 1910, and observed the phenomenon now known as the
Coanda effect. In 1939 the English engineer Frank Whittle developed a jet engine that
powered a full-sized aircraft, and a year later Secundo Campini in Italy flew for 10 min
using a thermal jet engine.
Jet-propelled aircraft have replaced propeller-driven types in all but short-range commercial
applications; turboprop planes, in which a propeller is turned by a turbine engine, are used
for short-range flights. The SR-71 Blackbird, a U.S. jet spyplane, holds the current speed
record of 2,193.17 mph (3,529.56 kph) for a piloted air-breathing airplane, but NASA's
experimental scramjet-powered pilotless X-43A bested this, almost reaching Mach 7 (about
5,000 mph/8,000 kph) and Mach 10 (about 6,800 mph/11,000 kph) in brief test flights in
2004. The Australian-led HyShot Flight Program successfully tested a British-designed
scramjet engine in 2006.

jet propulsion

(Military Dictionary): (DOD) Reaction propulsion in which the

propulsion unit obtains oxygen from the air, as distinguished from rocket propulsion, in
which the unit carries its own oxygen-producing material. In connection with aircraft
propulsion, the term refers to a gasoline or other fuel turbine jet unit that discharges hot gas
through a tail pipe and a nozzle which provides a thrust that propels the aircraft. See also
rocket propulsion.

Jet propulsion (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Aviation):

A form of propulsion where a mass of air is accelerated through a large change in velocity,
and the body is propelled forward as a result of the action-reaction phenomenon, or
Newtons third law of motion. The propulsion unit obtains its oxygen from the air for
imparting a higher velocity to the incoming gases by combusting fuel. The thrust is
obtained by expelling a mass air flow at a higher velocity than its incoming velocity.

In the above case, velocity of exhaust gases (Vje) is much greater than those of gases at the
inlet (Va). The accelerated gases push the aircraft forward by reaction in accordance with
Newtons third law of motion.

Aviation and Aerodynamics - jet propulsion: momentum derived from ejection of

exhaust stream or rapid flow of gas from within propelled body by mechanical, thermal,
or chemical process: turbojet, fanjet, ramjet, pulsejet, rocket

Rocket propulsion
The process of imparting a force to a flying vehicle, such as a missile or a spacecraft, by the
momentum of ejected matter.
This matter, called propellant, is stored in the vehicle and ejected at high velocity. In
chemical rockets the propellents are chemical compounds that undergo a chemical
combustion reaction, releasing the energy for thermodynamically accelerating and ejecting
the gaseous reaction products at high velocities. Chemical rocket propulsion is thus
differentiated from other types of rocket propulsion, which use nuclear, solar, or electrical
energy as their power source and which may use mechanisms other than the adiabatic
expansion of a gas for achieving a high ejection velocity. Propulsion systems using liquid
propellants (such as kerosine and liquid oxygen) have traditionally been called rocket
engines, and those that use propellants in solid form have been called rocket motors. See
also Electrothermal propulsion; Interplanetary propulsion; Ion propulsion; Plasma
propulsion; Propulsion; Spacecraft propulsion.
The performance of a missile or space vehicle propelled by a rocket propulsion system is
usually expressed in terms of such parameters as range, maximum velocity increase of
flight, payload, maximum altitude, or time to reach a given target. Propulsion performance
parameters (such as rocket exhaust velocity, specific impulse, thrust, or propulsion system
weight) are used in computing these vehicle performance criteria. The table gives typical
performance values. See also Specific impulse.
Typical performance values of rocket propulsion systems*
Propulsion system parameter

Typical range of values

Specific impulse at sea level

180390 s

Specific impulse at altitude

215470 s

Exhaust velocity at sea level

580015,000 ft/s (18004500 m/s)

Combustion temperature

40007200F (22004000C)

Chamber pressures

1003000 lb/in.2 (0.720 MPa)

Ratio of thrust to propulsion system weight



0.016.6 106 lb (0.052.9 107 n)

Flight speeds

050,000 ft/s (015,000 m/s)

*Exact values depend on application, propulsion system design, and propellant selection.
Maximum value applies to a cluster; for a single rocket motor it is 3.3 106 lb (14,700
Rocket propulsion is used for different military missiles or space-flight missions. Each
requires different thrust levels, operating durations, and other capabilities. In addition,
rocket propulsion systems are used for rocket sleds, jet-assisted takeoff, principal power
plants for experimental aircraft, or weather sounding rockets. For some space-flight
applications, systems other than chemical rockets are used or are being investigated for
possible future use. See also Guided missile; Missile; Rocket-sled testing; Satellite
(spacecraft); Space flight; Space probe.
Liquid-propellant rocket engines

These use liquid propellants stored in the vehicle for their chemical combustion energy. The
principal hardware subsystems are one or more thrust chambers, a propellant feed system,
which includes the propellant tanks in the vehicle, and a control system.
Bipropellants have a separate oxidizer liquid (such as lique-field oxygen or nitrogen
tetroxide) and a separate fuel liquid (such as liquefied hydrogen or hydrazine).
Monopropellants consist of a single liquid that contains both oxidizer and fuel ingredients.
A catalyst is required to decompose the monopropellant into gaseous combustion products.
Bipropellant combinations allow higher performance (higher specific impulse) than
monopropellants. See also Propellant.
The three principal components of a thrust chamber are the combustion chamber, where
rapid, high-temperature combustion takes place; the converging-diverging nozzle, where
the hot reaction-product gases are accelerated to supersonic velocities; and an injector,
which meters the flow of propellants in the desired mixture of fuel and oxidizer, introduces
the propellants into the combustion chamber, and causes them to be atomized or broken up

into small droplets. Some thrust chambers (such as the space shuttle's main engines and
orbital maneuvering engines) are gimbaled or swiveled to allow a change in the direction of
the thrust vector for vehicle flight motion control.
Solid-propellant rocket motors
In rocket motors the propellant is a solid material that feels like a soft plastic or soap. The
solid propellant cake or body is known as the grain. It can have a complex internal
geometry and is fully contained inside the solid motor case, to which a supersonic nozzle is
The propellant contains all the chemicals necessary to maintain combustion. Once ignited, a
grain will burn on all exposed surfaces until all the usable propellant is consumed; small
unburned residual propellant slivers often remain in the chamber.
As the grain surface recedes, a chemical reaction converts the solid propellant into hot gas.
The hot gas then flows through internal passages within the grain to the nozzle, where it is
accelerated to supersonic velocities. A pyrotechnic igniter provides the energy for starting
the combustion.
The nozzle must be protected from excessive heat transfer, from high-velocity hot gases,
from erosion by small solid or liquid particles in the gas (such as aluminum oxide), and
from chemical reactions with aggressive rocket exhaust products. The highest heat transfer
and the most severe erosion occur at the nozzle throat and immediately upstream from
there. Special composite materials, called ablative materials, are used for heat protection,
such as various types of graphite or reinforced plastics with fibers made of carbon or silica.
The development of a new composite material, namely, woven carbon fibers in a carbon
matrix, has allowed higher wall temperatures and higher strength at elevated temperatures;
it is now used in nozzle throats, nozzle inlets, and exit cones. It is made by carbonizing
(heating in a nonoxidizing atmosphere) organic materials, such as rayon or phenolics.
Multiple layers of different heat-resistant and heat-insulating materials are often
particularly effective. A three-dimensional pattern of fibers created by a process similar to
weaving gives the nozzle extra strength. See also Nozzle.
Nozzles can have sophisticated thrust-vector control mechanisms. In one such system the
nozzle forces are absorbed by a doughnut-shaped, confined, liquid-filled bag, in which the
liquid moves as the nozzle is canted. The space shuttle solid rocket boosters have gimbaled
nozzles for thrust-vector control, with actuators driven by auxiliary power units and
hydraulic pumps.
Hybrid rocket propulsion

A hybrid uses a liquid propellant together with a solid propellant in the same rocket engine.
The arrangement of the solid fuel is similar to that of the grain of a solid-propellant rocket;
however, no burning takes place directly on the surface of the grain because it contains
little or no oxidizer. Instead, the fuel on the grain surface is heated, decomposed, and

vaporized, and the vapors burn with the oxidizer some distance away from the surface. The
combustion is therefore inefficient.

Because flights of rocket-propelled vehicles are usually fairly expensive and because it is
sometimes difficult to obtain sufficient and accurate data from fast-moving flight vehicles,
it is accepted practice to test rocket propulsion systems and components extensively on the
ground under simulated flight conditions. Components such as an igniter or a turbine are
tested separately. Complete engines are tested in static engine test stands; the complete
vehicle stage is also tested statically. In the latter two tests the engine and vehicle are
adequately secured by suitable structures. Only in flight tests are they allowed to leave the

Dictionary of the US Military

Rocket Propulsion.- Reaction propulsion wherein both the fuel and the oxidizer,
generating the hot gases expended through a nozzle, are carried as part of the rocket engine.

Rocket propulsion differs from jet propulsion in that jet propulsion utilizes
atmospheric air as an oxidizer, whereas rocket propulsion utilizes nitric acid or a
similar compound as an oxidizer.

(DOD) Reaction propulsion wherein both the fuel and the oxidizer, generating the
hot gases expended through a nozzle, are carried as part of the rocket engine.
Specifically, rocket propulsion differs from jet propulsion in that jet propulsion
utilizes atmospheric air as an oxidizer, whereas rocket propulsion utilizes nitric acid
or a similar compound as an oxidizer. See also jet propulsion.

A form of propulsion that is self-contained for the supply of oxygen for the
combustion of fuel, which may be in solid or liquid form. The mass of burned gases
are thrown backward at very high speeds to produce forward thrust.

Spacecraft propulsion
Spacecraft propulsion is any method used to accelerate spacecraft and artificial satellites.
There are many different methods. Each method has drawbacks and advantages, and
spacecraft propulsion is an active area of research. However, most spacecraft today are

propelled by forcing a gas from the back/rear of the vehicle at very high speed through a
supersonic de Laval nozzle. This sort of engine is called a rocket engine.
All current spacecraft use chemical rockets (bipropellant or solid-fuel) for launch, though
some (such as the Pegasus rocket and SpaceShipOne) have used air-breathing engines on
their first stage. Most satellites have simple reliable chemical thrusters (often
monopropellant rockets) or resistojet rockets for orbital station-keeping and some use
momentum wheels for attitude control. Soviet bloc satellites have used electric propulsion
for decades, and newer Western geo-orbiting spacecraft are starting to use them for northsouth stationkeeping. Interplanetary vehicles mostly use chemical rockets as well, although
a few have used ion thrusters and Hall effect thrusters (two different types of electric
propulsion) to great success.

A remote camera captures a close-up view of a Space Shuttle Main Engine during a test
firing at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi