Turbine engines were developed because, propellers and piston engines have limits for effectively pushing and combusting thin air at high altitudes. Turbine engines, however, excel at high altitudes because they compress air before combustion, thus increasing high-altitude performance. And flying high in thin air translates to better fuel efficiency, an extended flying range, and faster and smoother flying high above the turbulence of most weather. That's why turbine engines, whether turboprops or turbofans, have replaced piston engines on most large aircraft. Turbines have also become increasingly popular on smaller executive aircraft with the development of small, efficient turbofan engines.
The turbines in a turbine engine are fan-like structures. Blades arrayed around a shaft catch air flowing through the engine and turn the central engine shaft. Most modern turbine engines have several turbines that compress the incoming air at separate stages before it reaches the combustion chamber. Additional turbines in the exhaust area of the engine use the energy from the exhaust and keep the turbine shaft rotating.
All turbine engines operate according to the same basic principle. A combustible mixture of fuel and air is drawn into the engine. The air and fuel mix in a combustion chamber, where the mixture is ignited. The hot exhaust gas shoots out the rear of the engine at high speed, pushing the airplane ahead. As the hot air flows through the engine, it turns additional turbines in the exhaust stream, which keep the shaft spinning quickly, usually more than 10,000 revolutions per minute (rpm).
A turbofan engine has a large-diameter turbine at the front of the engine that accelerates a large mass of air that flows around the central engine core and out the back. This arrangement makes more efficient use of fuel and is much quieter than older turbojet technology.
A turboprop engine is a jet engine attached to a propeller. The high-speed turbines generate an enormous amount of power that is transmitted to the propeller through a gear-reduction system. The propeller is really a large fan turned by the turbine. Turboprop engines are much more efficient than pure jet engines at speeds in the 250mph to 350 mph (400km/h to 560 km/h) range. At higher speeds, propellers lose their efficiency, and pure jet engines are a better choice.
From a pilot's perspective, turbine engines are much easier to operate than piston engines. Aircraft equipped with turbofan engines—like the Bombardier Learjet 45 and Boeing 737–400—have a single power control: the thrust levers. Automatic fuel control systems take care of mixing fuel and air in the combustion chamber, and there's no propeller control to worry about.
To increase power
To reduce power
Keep in mind, however, that it takes a while for jet engines to develop full power or "spool up." It's very important to anticipate the need for more power.
By far the most important consideration when operating a turbine engine is temperature control. If you shove the thrust levers forward on takeoff, you can easily overheat the engines. If you don't cause an engine failure, at the least you'll run up a very large bill for inspection and repair of critical engine components. So watch the exhaust gas temperature (EGT) and inlet turbine temperature (ITT) gauges carefully when you add power. Keep the needles out of the red zones.
The Learjet 45, Boeing 737–400, Boeing 747–400, and the Boeing 777–300 are equipped with thrust reversers that deflect the engines' exhaust forward to help the airplane slow down after landing.
To activate the thrust reversers