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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.

Photographs of a burner can and an annular burner.
 Computer drawing of a three types of burners and a jet engine.

Most modern passenger and military aircraft are powered by gas turbine engines, which are also called jet engines. There are several different types of gas turbine engines, and all turbine engines have some parts in common. All turbine engines have a combustor, or burner, in which the fuel is combined with high pressure air and burned. The resulting high temperature exhaust gas is used to turn the power turbine and produce thrust when passed through a nozzle.

Burners are also used on ramjet and scramjet propulsion systems. The design of ramjet and scramjet burners are slightly different than the burners used on gas turbine engines, although the basic thermodynamic principles are the same.

On this page, we discuss the operation of a gas turbine burner. The burner is shown in red on the computer graphic at the lower right of the figure. The burner sits between the compressor and the power turbine. The burner is arranged like an annulus, or a doughnut, as shown by the three burner configurations at the lower left. The central shaft that connects the turbine and compressor passes through the center hole. Burners are made from materials that can withstand the high temperatures of combustion. A burner usually has an outer casing, shown in red, and an inner liner, shown in orange. The liner is often perforated to enhance mixing of the fuel and air, as shown in the photo at the upper right.

There are three main types of combustors, and all three designs are found in modern gas turbines:

  1. The burner at the left is an annular combustor with the liner sitting inside the outer casing which has been peeled open in the drawing. Many modern burners have an annular design.
  2. The burner in the middle is an older can or tubular design. The photo at the top left shows some actual burner cans. Each can has both a liner and a casing, and the cans are arranged around the central shaft.
  3. A compromise design is shown at the right. This is a can-annular design, in which the casing is annular and the liner is can-shaped. The advantage to the can-annular design is that the individual cans are more easily designed, tested, and serviced.

The details of mixing and burning the fuel are quite complex and require extensive testing for a new burner. For our purposes, we can consider the burner as simply the place where combustion occurs and where the working fluid (air) temperature is raised with a slight decrease in pressure.

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Editor: Nancy Hall
NASA Official: Nancy Hall
Last Updated: May 13 2021

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