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This page is intended for college, high school, or middle school students. For younger students, a simpler explanation of the information on this page is available on the Kids Page.

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Turboprop Engine

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To move an airplane through the air, thrust is generated with some kind of propulsion system. Many low speed transport aircraft and small commuter aircraft use turboprop propulsion. On this page we will discuss some of the fundamentals of turboprop engines. The turboprop uses a gas turbine core to turn a propeller. As mentioned on a previous page, propeller engines develop thrust by moving a large mass of air through a small change in velocity. Propellers are very efficient and can use nearly any kind of engine to turn the prop (including humans!). In the turboprop, a gas turbine core is used. How does a turboprop engine work?

There are two main parts to a turboprop propulsion system, the core engine and the propeller. The core is very similar to a basic turbojet except that instead of expanding all the hot exhaust through the nozzle to produce thrust, most of the energy of the exhaust is used to turn the turbine. There may be an additional turbine stage present, as shown in green on the diagram, which is connected to a drive shaft. The drive shaft, also shown in green, is connected to a gear box. The gear box is then connected to a propeller that produces most of the thrust. The exhaust velocity of a turboprop is low and contributes little thrust because most of the energy of the core exhaust has gone into turning the drive shaft.

Because propellers become less efficient as the speed of the aircraft increases, turboprops are used only for low speed aircraft like cargo planes. High speed transports usually use high bypass turbofans because of the high fuel efficiency and high speed capability of turbofans. A variation of the turboprop engine is the turboshaft engine. In a turboshaft engine, the gear box is not connected to a propeller but to some other drive device. Turboshaft engines are used in many helicopters, as well as tanks, boats, and even race cars in the late 1960's.

The thrust equation for a turboprop is given on a separate slide.


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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: Jun 12 2014

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