Turbine Engine Operating Principles

in Aircraft Engines

The principle used by a gas turbine engine as it provides force to move an airplane is based on Newton’s law of momentum. This law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; therefore, if the engine accelerates a mass of air (action), it applies a force on the aircraft (reaction). The turbofan generates thrust by giving a relatively slower acceleration to a large quantity of air. The old pure turbojet engine achieves thrust by imparting greater acceleration to a smaller quantity of air. This was its main problem with fuel consumption and noise.

The mass of air is accelerated within the engine by the use of a continuous-flow cycle. Ambient air enters the inlet diffuser where it is subjected to changes in temperature, pressure, and velocity due to ram effect. The compressor then increases pressure and temperature of the air mechanically. The air continues at constant pressure to the burner section where its temperature is increased by combustion of fuel. The energy is taken from the hot gas by expanding through a turbine which drives the compressor, and by expanding through an exhaust nozzle designed to discharge the exhaust gas at high velocity to produce thrust.


The high velocity gases from the engine may be considered continuous, imparting this force against the aircraft in which it is installed, thereby producing thrust. The formula for thrust can be derived from Newton’s second law, which states that force is proportional to the product of mass and acceleration. This law is expressed in the formula:

In the above formula, mass is similar to weight, but it is actually a different quantity. Mass refers to the quantity of matter, while weight refers to the pull of gravity on that quantity of matter. At sea level under standard conditions, 1 pound of mass has a weight of 1 pound. To calculate the acceleration of a given mass, the gravitational constant is used as a unit of comparison. The force of gravity is 32.2 feet per second squared (ft/sec2). This means that a free falling 1 pound object accelerates at the rate of 32.2 feet per second each second that gravity acts on it. Since the object mass weighs 1 pound, which is also the actual force imparted to it by gravity, it can be assumed that a force of 1 pound accelerates a 1-1 object at the rate of 32.2 ft/sec2.

Also, a force of 10 pound accelerates a mass of 10 pound at the rate of 32.2 ft/sec2. This is assuming there is no friction or other resistance to overcome. It is now apparent that the ratio of the force (in pounds) is to the mass (in pounds) as the acceleration in ft/sec2 is to 32.2. Using M to represent the mass in pounds, the formula may be expressed thus:

In any formula involving work, the time factor must be considered. It is convenient to have all time factors in equivalent units (i.e., seconds, minutes, or hours). In calculating jet thrust, the term “pounds of air per second” is convenient, since the second is the same unit of time used for the force of gravity.