A powered the first American military jet, the Bell

A
piston power plant was the exclusive power plant for aircraft prior to World
War II.  At the conclusion of World War
II, it was clear that the jet engine was the future of aviation.  The jet engine was simple in its overall operation
and provided greater power and thrust while remaining more compact than a
piston engine.  Jet engines significantly
improved an aircraft’s efficiency in the distance an aircraft could cover, how much
payload it could carry and the time it took to get to its destination. 

 

Early
American jet engines were based on British technology developed by Frank
Whittle.  These early jet engines powered
the first American military jet, the Bell XP59, which utilized General Electric’s
J31 engine.  Another British design
powered the P-80 Shooting Star which was developed by Lockheed.  These early jet engines had high fuel
consumption and an early challenge involved developing an engine that provided
higher thrust with lower fuel usage.  At
the end of World War II, American companies such as GE and Pratt & Whitney
were able to access Germany’s research and combine that information with British
research to help further develop more efficient jet engines. 

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In 1948,
Pratt & Whitney developed a solution to the inefficient jet engines by
developing a “Dual Spool” engine which led to the development of the Pratt and
Whitney J-57 jet engine.   This engine
was the first to break the sound barrier without an induced dive, and eight of
these engines powered the B-52 bomber as well as the Boeing 707 and Douglas
DC-8.  Although the “Dual Spool” design
was an important step forward, engine designers wanted to push the limits even
farther.  As they pushed the performance
of jet engines further, they ran into the problem of “compressor stall” which
resulted from the compressor drawing in too much air.  This would cause a sudden blast of air that
rushed forward, causing the engine to lose all thrust.  A General Electric engineer, Gerhard Neumann,
found the solution by developing the “variable stator”.  The variable stator was a set of vanes that
reduced the amount of air flow passing through the compressor.  By adding the variable stator, General
Electric designed and built the J-79 which powered the Lockheed F-104 fighter
to twice the speed of sound.

 

Still,
Engineers still wanted more performance which led to the development of the turbofan
jet engine.  Engineers learned that not
only does the jet engine exhaust provide thrust, but it also provides power.  This power provided opportunity to create
more thrust.  By using a larger turbine, engineers
were able to install a fan.  As the
turbine turns the fan, the fan adds to the thrust to the jet, improving fuel
economy as well as reducing noise.  The
turbofan doubled the thrust of jet engines at the time.   At the end World War II, Germany’s M262 powered
by a Jumo 004 produced just under 2,000 pounds of thrust.  Pratt and Whitney’s most powerful model of
the “dual spool” J-57 developed 19,600 pounds of thrust.  Fast forward to turbofan jet engines and
General Electric’s GE90, which was developed in the 90’s to power Boeings 777,
produced up to 94,000 pounds of thrust and is the world’s largest turbofan
engine.     

 

The
development of jet engines since the end of World War II has changed the way
people live.  Jet engines help aircraft climb
faster and higher as well as travel at higher speeds, reducing travel time,
carrying more cargo and people farther than before.  However, the introduction of the jet engine
also came with a cost, by requiring more expensive metals to withstand higher
temperatures, increased usage of fuel and longer runways and larger airports to
accommodate larger aircraft.  

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