How Do Turbofan Engines Work in Aircraft?

Posted on August 25, 2022 Jerold Perkins Aviation

With the ability to cover massive swaths of land at unparalleled speeds, many modern aircraft rely on the jet engine to generate the great amount of power required to propel 700,000 pounds of aluminum through flight. Jet engines, or gas turbines, on modern aircraft are more often than not turbofan engines, those of which use a combination of combustion and bypass air to create thrust. As the majority of aircraft today rely on the turbofan engine, this blog will explore the unique features and functions of this specific turbojet which set it apart from older designs.

All jet engines use the power of combustion to generate the forward thrust required to drive aircraft forward. In this process, jet fuel is combined with an intake of air in a combustion chamber where it is then burned to produce pressurized exhaust gasses. Formerly, jet engine driven aircraft relied on an engine design referred to as the turboprop; this design relies primarily on combustion for thrust and therefore consumes large amounts of fuel. Meanwhile, the modern turbofan engine produces the majority of its forward thrust through simply forcing an intake of air backward at high speeds without passing the air through the combustion chamber. In fact, only 10% of the air taken in by the fan at the front of turbofan engines undergoes combustion. In addition to reducing costs by lessening fuel intake, the turbofan jet engine is better for the environment.

Beginning at the front of the engine, the fan, which almost always is made of titanium blades, sucks in massive quantities of air. The term "bypass air" refers to the air that is propelled straight out, while a small portion of the air is directed to the engine's core where it enters a compression chamber. The compressor, also referred to as an "axial flow compressor," uses a series of airfoil-shaped spinning blades to speed up and compress the air. From here, the air reaches the combustor, where it combines with fuel and is ignited by the igniter, which is very similar to the spark plugs in a car.

Next, the hot, high-speed air enters the turbine which extracts energy from the air, spinning the turbine around in a circle, and turning the engine shaft that it's connected to. Lastly, high-speed air is shot out of the aircraft nozzle which basically functions as the exhaust of the engine. This entire process works on Isaac's third law of motion, as the strong backward motion forces the aircraft forwards as an equal and opposite reaction.

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