The turboprop engine is a configuration of a turbine engine that powers a connected propeller. Turbine engines are incredibly complex, but in their most basic form, not as daunting as they might seem. The primary components of a turboprop engine are an air intake engine, compressor, combustor, turbine, and propelling nozzle. Air is drawn in via the intake where it is compressed by the compressor. The compressed air moves into the combustor or combustion chamber, where fuel is added and the mixture ignites. This hot, combusted gas expands and is pushed toward a vector. The expanding gas is directed toward the propeller through the reduction gearing. Further expansion of these gases occurs in the propelling nozzle where they are reduced to atmospheric pressure. A turboprop engine’s exhaust gases do not contain enough energy to create significant thrust, so the aircraft relies on the spinning propellers to produce thrust.
The turboprop engine was first designed by Gyorgy Jendrassik, a hungarian mechanical engineer. He began conceptualizing the machine in 1928 and built a small-scale experimental gas turbine engine in 1938. Jendrassik’s version of the engine was put on hold at the dawn of WW2, but further technological developments during the war eventually led to the Rolls-Royce RB.50 Trent, a converted turbojet engine with a reduction gear and five-bladed propeller. This engine first flew in september of 1945 and, shortly after, Rolls-Royce developed turboprop engines that were fully certified for both military and civil aviation.
Turboprop engines put more focus on shaft power than exhaust thrust, which they obtain by consuming additional power from turbine expansion. Due to more power being taken by the expansion in the turbine section, there is less energy from the exhaust to provide thrust. In fact, exhaust makes up approximately ten percent of the total thrust, if not less. The proportion of thrust that comes from the propeller is inversely related to speed. More power from the propeller at lower speeds, and less power comes from it at higher speeds. The propeller is affixed to the turbine via a reduction gear that converts the high RPM/low torque power to low RPM/high torque. The propellers on turboprop engines are typically constant-speed or variable pitch propellers, a configuration that automatically changes the blade pitch in order to maintain or adjust rotational speed.
Dissimilar to the smaller fans in turbofan engines, turboprop propellers have large diameters to maximize the volume of air the propeller can accelerate. This also means that a lower airstream velocity can still produce sufficient speed, making turboprop engines more energy and fuel efficient. Modern turboprop airliners provide nearly identical performance characteristics as regional jet airlines while using ? of the fuel per passenger. This fuel efficiency, coupled with the enhanced power-to-weight ratio compared to piston engines, helps offset the higher initial cost and maintenance. Turboprops are most efficient at speeds below 450 mph because the velocity of the propeller/exhaust combination is low compared to other turbine engine-powered aircraft.
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