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Computer drawing of four types of turbine engines:
 turbojet, turbofan, turboprop, and afterburning turbojet.

To move an airplane through the air, we have to use some kind of propulsion system to generate thrust. The most widely used form of propulsion system for modern aircraft is the gas turbine engine. Turbine engines come in a variety of forms.

This page shows computer drawings of four different variations of a gas turbine or jet engine. While each of the engines are different, they share some parts in common. Each of these engines have a combustion section (red), a compressor (cyan), a turbine (magenta) and an inlet and a nozzle (grey). The compressor, burner, and turbine are called the core of the engine, since all gas turbines have these components. The core is also referred to as the gas generator since the output of the core is hot exhaust gas. The gas is passed through a nozzle to produce thrust for the turbojet, while it is used to drive the turbine (green) of the turbofan and turboprop engines. Because the compressor and turbine are linked by the central shaft and rotate together, this group of parts is called the turbomachinery. The operation of the turbojet, afterburning turbojet, turbofan, and turboprop engines are described on separate pages.

Because of their high power output and high thermal efficiency, gas turbine engines are also used in a wide variety of applications not related to aeronautics. Connecting the main shaft of the engine to an electro-magnet will generate electrical power. Gas turbines can also be used to power ships, trucks and military tanks. In these applications, the main shaft is connected to a gear box (much like the turboprop) and the resulting power plant is called a turboshaft engine. In the late 1960's, turboshaft powered race cars competed at the Indy 500.

You can explore the design and operation of different turbine engine by using the interactive EngineSim Java applet. You can select the engine type and vary any of the parameters which affect thrust and fuel flow.

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

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