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How Jet Engines Work

NASA Glenn Research Center's Aeronautics Propulsion

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Subject Area: Mathematics and Technology

Grade Level: 9-12

National Standards:

  • Use and value the connections between mathematics and other disciplines.
  • Construct and draw inferences from charts, tables, and graphs that summarize data from real-world situations.


  • Technology Research Tools - Select and apply technology tools for research, information analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making in content learning.
  • Technology Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Tools - Routinely and efficiently use on-line information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publications, communications, and productivity.


After reading the explanation given below, use the World Wide Web to access additional information needed to complete the activity that will give an overview on how a jet engine works and comparisons of different jet engines used today.

Beginner's Guide to Propulsion is a web site of information prepared at NASA Glenn Research Center to help you better understand propulsion, particularly jet engine propulsion. Click Beginner's Guide Index to access the list of available pages. Open the pages called Gas Turbine Parts and Types of Gas Turbines and read the explanations about the parts and types of jet engines. Then using the information found in these slides, complete the How Jet Engines Work Activity designed to demonstrate your understanding of this information

The steady progress of powered flight has closely followed the development of suitable aircraft power plants. Without a lightweight and adequately powered engine, controlled flight of sufficient distance of a useful purpose would not be possible. The first airplanes were powered by a piston engine that turned a propeller because this was the only means known at the time that could propel a heavier-than-air machine in continuous level flight. The principle of jet propulsion was demonstrated by Hero of Alexandria as long ago as the first century AD in the earliest "steam engine" on record called the aeolipile.

But the jet engine did not become a practical possibility until 1930 when Sir Frank Whittle ( patented the design of his first reaction motor suitable for aircraft propulsion. The early jet engines were designed solely for aircraft propulsion. However, development was rapid and the range of applications has widened to include ships, hovercraft, power stations, and industrial installations, all of which benefit from the jet engine's inherent qualities of high power, small size, and low weight.


You, or you and your partner(s), will be evaluated on the ability to explain the main parts of a jet engine, the function of each, and the four major types of gas turbine engines.


You will be evaluated on your ability to use the Internet to find additional information needed to complete the activity on how a jet engine works, as well as the accuracy/feasibility of your answers on the four major types of gas turbine engines and their applications.

Submitted by: Jim Munchick, Olmsted Falls City Schools, Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Related Pages:
Propulsion Activity Index
Propulsion Index


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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: May 13 2021

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