As large and complex vehicles with many operating systems, aircraft require significant powerplants to provide them with enough power to carry out their various functions before, during, and after flight. In fact, almost every system on an aircraft is run on the power provided by the engines. While some aircraft depend on reciprocating engines, more advanced aircraft use gas-turbine engines. These two designs comprise separate instrumentation and offer different operating characteristics, so it is wise to understand how each contributes to performance prior to purchasing. For your better knowledge, this blog will cover the many aircraft engine designs and their applications in modern aviation.
Reciprocating engines are the more common choice for general aviation, producing mechanical energy from chemical reactions using fuel, electricity, or a combination of the two. This energy then turns a propeller to generate forward thrust. As they all contain cylinders attached to a crankshaft, reciprocating engines can be classified into four categories by the arrangement of such components. These include radial engines, in-line engines, v-line engines, and horizontally-opposed-engines. Horizontally-opposed-engines are the most popular, containing an even number of cylinders and allowing for better cooling than other models. Meanwhile, other designs offer advantages such as higher horsepower in the case of V-line engines, so it is important to assess the needs of your particular aircraft.
Meanwhile, gas-turbine engines include four types of engines: turbofans, turboprops, turboshafts, and turbojets. Unlike reciprocating engines, gas-turbine engines use combustion reactions to power the turning of a turbine and generate thrust. The turbojet design is the simplest of the four; it comprises a compressor, combustion chamber, turbine section and exhaust. These components work to propel exploding fuel backward to generate thrust. The turboprop was developed later and differs in that it drives a propeller through a reduction gear, allowing optimum propeller performance to be achieved at much slower speeds than the operating RPM. Later came the turbofan which is a more efficient design because it diverts a secondary airflow around the combustion chamber. As such, a large amount of thrust created by this engine is simply from air being forced backwards at great speeds, rather than burning fuel. Lastly, the fourth type of jet engine is known as the turboshaft, and this design is most common in helicopters. Most of the energy produced by the expanding gasses drives a shaft connected to a turbine through a single stage of reduction gearing, rather than producing jet thrust.
Given the different designs of reciprocating engines and gas-turbine engines, pilots will rely on different instruments for each. When operating an aircraft with a reciprocating engine, pilots will rely on instruments such as an oil temperature gauge and an oil pressure gauge. On the other hand, pilots operating gas-turbine engines will need to monitor fuel flow, engine pressure ratio, and more.
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