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Proud of your “turbo” car?
should be. Short for “turbo-supercharger”, it’s the grand-daddy of
all jet engines.
The jump is a short one from
your car to a roaring Boeing 747 headed down the runway for takeoff. Jam a lot of air in a tight space.
Mix in some fuel and spark it off. Instead of having this extra boost
push down on the pistons, open the back door and let ‘er rip. You
fill in the details.
Early in the wild new 20th Century, mechanics and
engineers were looking for more power. They used a turbine fan
compressor to jam extra air into autos, trucks and airplane
engines. This was “super-charging” the gas mixture.
gave an engine that extra boost. “Turbo” means high performance.
The gas turbine engine
was the next step. Why have a belt or gear turn the supercharger?
Squirt some gas in and let it turn itself. Like your car’s turbo, it
used the hot exhaust gases to power the compressor fan. Use that spin
for driving wheels or a propeller instead, and off you go!
Son of the “Turbo”, the
gas turbine was the turbojet’s direct “daddy”. Turbo-prop airplanes
are still common today. Gas
turbine race cars threatened to take over the Indianapolis 500 --type
races until rule makers choked it to death.
The bright idea occurred to lots
of people: turn a supercharger into a jet for some real power
by opening the back gate. Three
people did something about it: Henri Coanda in France, Hans
Von Ohain in Germany and Frank Whittle in Great Britain.
was there first, but he is all but forgotten.
The first jet aircraft—Henri Coanda’s “Air Reactive Engine”, which flew
briefly in 1910 near Paris, France. On display at the Grand Palais
in Paris a month before the “flight”
Coanda went straight for the back gate. His
jet was a crossover of supercharger and afterburner. A four-cylinder
gas engine turned the air compressor. More gasoline was added to
the compressor’s exhaust for jet thrust. Voila! Power. Coanda
claimed 220 kilograms (about 450 pounds) of thrust.
While adjusting his engine during
a test on December 16, 1910, Henri realized his aircraft was moving.
I looked up and saw the walls of Paris approaching rapidly. There
was no time to stop or turn round and I decided to try and fly
instead. Unfortunately I had no experience of flying…”The
“Air Reactive Engine” took to the sky with a
soon came back down as Coanda tried learning to fly the hard way.
He was thrown clear and the aircraft burned. The first jet had flown—very
briefly. It would be 30 years before another one did that Coanda
died in 1972 without getting credit for being a man far ahead of his
Not the first jet to fly, but
the first successful jet aircraft, the Heinkel He-178 Thanks to
Aircraft Engine Design
Von Ohain and Frank
Whittle were more cautious, leaving the flying to others.
They did their tests
in the laboratory, with the engines tied down (and occasionally
exploding and burning as well).
Neither Von Ohain nor Whittle apparentlyknew of the other’swork.
Whittle was a Royal Air Force officer
and beat his rival to the patent office with a turbojet engine
design by 1930.
Aircraft designer Von Ohain lost the
patent race, but got his engine in the air almost two years ahead
of Whittle in 1939. The aircraft was a Heinkel He-178. Though
Heinkel Aircraft Company was first to have a successful jet stay
aloft, it would be Messerschmitt’s Me-262 twin-engine jet that
became the first mass-produced jet fighter.
Whittle’s engine took to the air on May
15, 1941 in a design by the Gloster Aircraft Company. The E28/39
had a single Whittle engine and was the forerunner of England’s
first jet fighter, the twin-engine Gloster Meteor.
In recognition of his development
work on jet engines, Frank Whittle was knighted by King George VI in
1948 and so became Sir Frank Whittle.
Frank Whittle’s engine. The compressor blades can be
seen in white at the left, with the combustion chambers looking like
mufflers going around the sides. The hot jet gases pass by the driving
turbine blades—white in the center-- and exit out the cone on the right
in this cut-away drawing.
Von Ohain’s engine, a type of “axial flow”,
with intake at left and jet gas exit at right.
Aircraft Engine Design
A well-known automobile company
by the name of Rolls-Royce took over making the engines Whittle
designed. It was a strategic move. Rolls-Royce turbojets still
power airplanes worldwide today.
Britain’s first jet
fighter was the Gloster Meteor, which went into action in July of
1944 fighting German V-1 “buzz bombs”. Those flying bombs used
another simple type of jet, the ramjet, and were the first cruise
Germany’s first mass-produced
jet fighter was the Messerschmitt Me-262 “Swallow” using Von Ohain’s
rival design to Whittle’s. It appeared in 1944 ahead of the
Meteor, but the two never met in combat.
The Meteor saw combat with Australian pilots in the Korean War in
1950 and in the Arab-Israeli conflicts.
In the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, a Syrian
Meteor shot down a newer type of British aircraft. What irony.
After WW II, Rolls-Royce gave the Soviet Union its best jet engines
in a bizarre political pool game. A
new Socialist Party Prime Minister in Britain, Clement Atlee, wanted
to ease up the developing Cold War tensions. He invited Russian
engineers to tour the still secret Rolls-Royce factory. Atlee
was a little naive about Soviet intentions. Though the Soviets
got German jet engines and technicians as war booty, they were still
trying to convert superchargers and gas turbines to jets, and were having
problems. The Rolls-Royce turbojet was the best in the world.
They jumped at the invitation.
the tour was over, a Russian engineer joined in a friendly
game of billiards with Atlee. If the Russian won, he proposed the
British would sell them a shipment of Rolls-Royce engines and
a license agreement--which meant the Soviets would have the engine
the Soviet representative did. In a big way.
Whittle got the title, “Sir”, and Von Ohain
was called “Professor”.
can name your “Turbo” whatever you like.
Wallace Wood (no relation
to the famed Mad Magazine cartoonist) is a San Jose
State University journalism graduate. He worked for
the San Jose Mercury/News as a stringer, then briefly
for the Sunnyvale Standard/Mt.View Register-Leader (now
defunct) before spending years at the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
All California papers. He is now "retired".
A series of his on paper subdivisions won third place
in Associated Press competition for the tiny Sentinel
statewide behind two L.A. Times writers. But another
series on the business of death at funeral homes had
greater impact, leading to many self-imposed reforms
in the industry.