NASA Glenn Research Center Controls and Dynamics Technology Branch

Wave Rotor Topping Cycles
for Gas Turbine Engines

[cutout view of a wave rotor]


photo showing test rig In support of the Turbomachinery and Combustion Technology program, the wave rotor is being investigated for use as a core gas generator in future gas turbine engines in order to achieve high peak cycle temperatures and pressures. The device uses gasdynamic waves to transfer energy directly to and from the working fluid through which the waves travel. It consists of a series of constant area passages that rotate about an axis. Through rotation, the ends of the passages are periodically exposed to various circumferentially arranged ports which initiate the travelling waves within the passages. Because each passage of the wave rotor is periodically exposed to both hot and cold flow, the mean temperature of the rotor material remains considerably below the peak cycle temperature.

block diagram showing wave rotor connection to parts of turbine engine

Potential Advantages:
	(1)Higher Efficiency
	(2)Higher Peak Cycle Temperature
	(3)Higher Overall Engine Pressure Ratio
	(4)Compact--Combines Compressor and Turbine Stage into one device
	(5)Simple Design--No Airfoils Necessary  (
	6)Low Speed/Low Stress Estimates made for a small engine (5 lbm/s) using numerical simulation indicate that the mean passage wall temperature is approximately 360 degrees C below the combustor discharge temperature. This self-cooling characteristic, along with low rotational speed, and lack of any "blade loading" stresses give the wave rotor several potential advantages over conventional gas generator cores. Steady state design and off-design cycle deck calculations for a four port wave rotor core using current subsonic engine technology for the surrounding turbomachinery indicate that the wave rotor can readily meet the aero/thermodynamic requirements, substantially reduce specific fuel consumption and increase specific power.


To develop an overall understanding, and assess the potential, of the wave rotor concept including preliminary design, steady and unsteady behavior, and on and off-design operation using analytical, experimental, and computational methods.

Project Overview and Status

Click here for a brief overview video.
(WMV file format - 60MB)

The following analysis tools have been or are being developed during the course of the wave rotor project.

Wave Divider Experiment
4 Port Experiment

1-D Single Passage Simulation
1-D 4 Port Design Code
1-D Multi-Passage Simulation
Engine Cycle Deck Simulation
2-D Multi-Passage Simulation
3-D Single Passage Simulation

System Design Performance Calculation

Alternative Configurations
Combustion on the Rotor
Shaft Work Extraction


Welch, G.E., Slater, J., Wilson, J. "Wave-Rotor Transition Duct Experiment," AIAA-2007-1249, January, 2007.

Wilson, J., Welch, G.E., Paxson, D.E., "Experimental Results of Performance Tests on a Four-Port Wave Rotor," AIAA-2007-1250 January, 2007 .

Slater, J., Welch, G.E., "Design of a Wave-Rotor Transition Duct," AIAA-2005-5143, June, 2005

Paxson, D.E., Wilson, J., Welch, G.E., "Comparison Between Simulated and Experimentally Measured Performance of a Four Port Wave Rotor," AIAA-2007-5049, July, 2007.

Wilson, J., "An Experimental Determination of Losses in a Three-Port Wave Rotor", Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, Vol. 120, pp. 833-842, October 1998.

Gegg, S., and Snyder, P., "Aerodynamic Design of a Wave Rotor to High Pressure Turbine Transition Duct, " AIAA-98-3249, July, 1998.

Greendyke, R. B., Paxson, D. E., and Schobeiri, M. T., "Dynamic Simulation of a Wave Rotor Topped Turboshaft Engine," AIAA paper 97-3143, July, 1997, also NASA TM 107514.

Jones, S. M., and Welch, G. E., "Performance Benefits for Wave Rotor-Topped Gas Tubine Engines", ASME Paper 96-GT-075, June, 1996 (also NASA TM 107193).

Larosiliere, L. M., "Wave Rotor Charging Process: Effects of Gradual Opening and Rotation," AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1995, pp. 178-184.

Larosiliere, L. M., and Mawid, M., "Analysis of Unsteady Wave Processes in a Rotating Channel, " AIAA Paper 93-2527, July 1993.

Nalim, M. R., "Pulse Combustion and Wave Rotors for High-Speed Propulsion Engines, " AIAA-98-1614, April, 1998.

Nalim, M. R., "Thermodynamic Limits of Pressure Gain and Work Production in Combustion and Evaporation Process, " AIAA-98-3398, July, 1998.

Nalim, R. M., and Paxson, D. E., "A Numerical Investigation of Premixed Combustion in Wave Rotors," ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, Vol. 119, No. 3, 1997, pp. 668-675, also ASME Paper 96-GT-116, June, 1996, also, NASA TM 107242.

Paxson, D. E., "A General Numerical Model for Wave Rotor Analysis," NASA TM 105740, July,1992.

Paxson, D. E., "An Improved Numerical Model for Wave Rotor Design and Analysis," AIAA Paper 93-0482, January, 1993, (also NASA TM 105915).

Paxson, D. E., "A Comparison Between Numerically Modelled and Experimentally Measured Loss Mechanisms in Wave Rotors," AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 11, No. 5, 1995, pp. 908-914, (also NASA TM 106279).

Paxson, D. E., "Numerical Simulation of Dynamic Wave Rotor performance," AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 12, No. 5, 1996, pp. 949-957, (also, NASA TM 106997).

Paxson, D. E., "A Numerical Investigation of the Startup Transient in a Wave Rotor," ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, Vol. 119, No. 3, 1997, pp. 676-682, also ASME Paper 96-GT-115, June, 1996, (also, NASA TM 107196).

Paxson, D. E., "An Incidence Loss Model for Wave Rotors With Axially Aligned Passages, " AIAA-98-3251, July, 1998; also NASA TM-1998-207923.

Paxson, D. E. , Wilson, J., "Recent Improvements to and Validation of the One Dimensional NASA Wave Rotor Model," NASA TM 106913, May, 1995.

Paxson, D. E. and Lindau, J. W., "Numerical Assessment of Four-Port, Through-Flow Wave Rotor Cycles With Passage Height Variation," AIAA paper 97-3143, July, 1997, also NASA TM 107490.

Paxson, D. E. and Nalim M. R., "A Modified Through-Flow Wave Rotor Cycle With Combustor Bypass Ducts," AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 15, No. 3, 1999, pp. 462-467.

Paxson, D. E., and Skoch, G. J, "Wave Augmented Diffusers for Centrifugal Compressors, " AIAA-98-3401, July, 1998; also NASA TM-1998-208480.

Paxson, D. E., Welch, G. E., and Wilson, J., "Numerical Simulation of Flow in a Wave Rotor," NASA Tech Briefs, January, 1997, pp. 68-69.

Weber, K., and Snyder, P., "Wave Rotor to Turbine Transition Duct Flow Analysis, " AIAA-98-3250, July, 1998.

Welch, G. E., "Two-Dimensional Numerical Study of Wave Rotor Flow Dynamics", AIAA Paper 93-2525, July 1993.

Welch, G. E., "Two-Dimensional Computational Model for Wave Rotor Flow Dynamics", ASME Paper 96-GT-550, June 1996 (also NASA TM 107192).

Welch, G. E., "Macroscopic Balance Model for Wave Rotors", AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 13, No. 4, July, 1997, pp. 508-516, (also NASA TM 107114).

Welch, G. E., "Wave Engine Topping Cycle Assessment," AIAA-97-0707, January, 1997; also NASA TM-107371 and ARL-TR-1284. (Presented at the 35th Aerospace Sciences Meeting, Reno, NV, Jan. 6-9, 1997.)

Welch, G. E., and Chima R. V., "Two-Dimensional CFD Modeling of Wave Rotors," AIAA Paper 93-3318 (also NASA TM 106261).

Welch, G. E., Jones, S. M., Paxson, D. E., "Wave-Rotor-Enhanced Gas Turbine Engines," ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, Vol. 119, No. 2, 1997, pp. 469-477; also NASA TM-106998, July, 1995.

Welch, G. E., and Paxson, D. E., "Wave Turbine Analysis Tool Development," AIAA-98-3402, July, 1998; also NASA TM-1998-208485 and ARL-TR-174.

Welch, G. E., Paxson, D. E.., Wilson, J., and Snyder, P. H., "Wave-Rotor-Enhanced Gas Turbine Engine Demonstrator," prepared for the Gas Turbine Operation and Technology for Land, Sea, and Air Propulsion and Power System Symposium, paper ARL-TR-2113, October, 1999, also NASA TM-1999-209459.

Wilson, J., "An Experimental Determination of Losses in a Three-Port Wave Rotor," ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, Vol. 120, 1998, pp. 833-842.

Wilson, J., "An Experiment on Losses in a 3-Port Wave Rotor", NASA Contractor Report, CR-198508, 1997.

Wilson, J., Chima, R., Skews, B., "Transmission and Incidence Losses for a Slotted Plate," AIAA-98-3252, July, 1998.

Wilson, J., Fronek , D., "Initial Results from the NASA Lewis Wave Rotor Experiment, " AIAA Paper AIAA-93-2521, also NASA Technical Memorandum 106148, June 1993.

Wilson, J., Hendricks, R. C., Wu, T., Flower, R., "Bidirectional Brush Seals", NASA Technical Memorandum 107351, presented at ASME Turbo-Expo '97, Orlando, FL, June 1997.

Wilson, J., and Paxson, D. E., "Jet Engine Perfomance Enhancement Through The Use of a Wave-Rotor Topping Cycle," NASA TM 4486, October, 1993.

Wilson, J. and Paxson, D. E., " Wave Rotor Optimization for Gas Turbine Engine Topping Cycles," AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 12, No. 4, 1996, pp. 778-785, (also NASA TM 106951).


  • Army Research Laboratory
  • Allison Gas Turbine Company
  • Coleman Engine Company
  • Unistry, Inc.
  • University of Washington
  • University of Florida
  • National Research Council


  • Project Contact:
    Daniel E. Paxson
    NASA Glenn Research Center
    21000 Brookpark Road, M.S. 77-1
    Cleveland, Ohio 44135
    Phone: (216) 433-8334

  • Other key personnel:
    Jack Wilson (QSS Group, Inc.) --
    Gerard Welch (ARL) --
    Scott Jones --
    Louis Larosiliere (ARL) --

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last updated: 1.28.11