Thrust and propulsion

Propulsion systems

It is tempting to try to divide the conventional aircraft propulsion systems into two neat categories; propeller and jet. Real propulsion devices, however, do not always fall into such simple compartments. In particular, gas-turbine propulsion covers a wide range from turbo-props to turbo-jets. To simplify matters, we shall look first at the two ends of this spectrum; by considering propeller propulsion at one end, and simple turbo-jet propulsion at the other. Later on, we shall look at the intermediate types such as turbo-fans and prop – fans, and also some unconventional systems.

Propeller propulsion

At one time, it looked as though the propeller was in danger of becoming obso­lete. Since the early 1960s, however, the trend has been reversed, and nowa­days nearly all subsonic aircraft use either a propeller or a ducted fan. Even the fan has lost some ground to advanced propellers, and we shall therefore pay more attention to propeller design than might have seemed appropriate a few years ago. It is worth noting, that in 1986, half a century after the first successful running of a jet engine, 70 per cent of the aircraft types on display at the Farnborough Air Display were propeller driven.

The blades of a propeller like those of the helicopter rotor can be thought of as being rotating wings. Since the axis of rotation of the propeller is hori­zontal, the aerodynamic force produced is directed forwards to provide thrust rather than upwards to generate lift. The thrust force is therefore related to the differences in pressure between the forward – and the rearward-facing surfaces of the blades.

Thrust and propulsionRelative flow


Подпись: stream-tube Thrust and propulsion Подпись: Surrounding

Fig. 6.1 The flow past a propeller in flight

In the process of producing this pressure difference, the propeller creates a slipstream of faster-moving air. In Fig. 6.1, the dashed lines represent the streamlines that pass through the tips of the propeller. In three dimensions we have to imagine a stream-tube that encloses or surrounds the propeller disc. Downstream of the propeller, this surrounding stream-tube roughly defines the boundary of the slipstream. The rate of change of momentum of the air within this stream-tube gives a good indication of the overall thrust.

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