Aircraft require thrust to produce enough speed for the wings to provide lift or enough thrust to overcome the weight of the aircraft for vertical takeoff. For an aircraft to remain in level flight, thrust must be provided that is equal to and in the opposite direction of the aircraft drag. This thrust, or propulsive force, is provided by a suitable type of aircraft heat engine. All heat engines have in common the ability to convert heat energy into mechanical energy by the flow of some fluid mass (generally air) through the engine. In all cases, the heat energy is released at a point in the cycle where the working pressure is high relative to atmospheric pressure.
The propulsive force is obtained by the displacement of a working fluid (again, atmospheric air). This air is not necessarily the same air used within the engine. By displacing air in a direction opposite to that in which the aircraft is propelled, thrust can be developed. This is an application of Newton’s third law of motion. It states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, as air is being displaced to the rear of the aircraft the aircraft is moved forward by this principle. One misinterpretation of this principle is air is pushing against the air behind the aircraft making it move forward. This is not true. Rockets in space have no air to push against, yet, they can produce thrust by using Newton’s third law. Atmospheric air is the principal fluid used for propulsion in every type of aircraft powerplant except the rocket, in which the total combustion gases are accelerated and displaced. The rocket must provide all the fuel and oxygen for combustion and does not depend on atmospheric air. A rocket carries its own oxidizer rather than using ambient air for combustion. It discharges the gaseous byproducts of combustion through the exhaust nozzle at an extremely high velocity (action) and it is propelled in the other direction (reaction).
The propellers of aircraft powered by reciprocating or turboprop engines accelerate a large mass of air at a relatively lower velocity by turning a propeller. The same amount of thrust can be generated by accelerating a small mass of air to a very high velocity. The working fluid (air) used for the propulsive force is a different quantity of air than that used within the engine to produce the mechanical energy to turn
Turbojets, ramjets, and pulse jets are examples of engines that accelerate a smaller quantity of air through a large velocity change. They use the same working fluid for propulsive force that is used within the engine. One problem with these types of engines is the noise made by the high velocity air exiting the engine. The term turbojet was used to describe any gas turbine engine, but with the differences in gas turbines used in aircraft, this term is used to describe a type of gas turbine that passes all the gases through the core of the engine directly.
Turbojets, ramjets, and pulse jets have very little to no use in modern aircraft due to noise and fuel consumption. Small general aviation aircraft use mostly horizontally opposed reciprocating piston engines. While some aircraft still use radial reciprocating piston engines, their use is very limited. Many aircraft use a form of the gas turbine engine to produce power for thrust. These engines are normally the turboprop, turboshaft, turbofan, and a few turbojet engines. “Turbojet” is the former term for any turbine engine. Now that there are so many different types of turbine engine, the term used to describe most turbine engines is “gas turbine engine.” All four of the previously mentioned engines belong to the gas turbine family.
All aircraft engines must meet certain general requirements of efficiency, economy, and reliability. Besides being economical in fuel consumption, an aircraft engine must be economical in the cost of original procurement and the cost of maintenance; and it must meet exacting requirements of efficiency and low weight-to-horsepower ratio. It must be capable of sustained high-power output with no sacrifice in reliability; it must also have the durability to operate for long periods of time between overhauls. It needs to be as compact as possible, yet have easy accessibility for maintenance. It is required to be as vibration free as possible and be able to cover a wide range of power output at various speeds and altitudes.
These requirements dictate the use of ignition systems that deliver the firing impulse to the spark plugs at the proper time in all kinds of weather and under other adverse conditions. Engine fuel delivery systems provide metered fuel at the correct proportion of fuel/air ingested by the engine regardless of the attitude, altitude, or type of weather in which the engine is operated. The engine needs a type of oil system that delivers oil under the proper pressure to lubricate and cool all of the operating parts of the engine when it is running. Also, it must have a system of damping units to damp out the vibrations of the engine when it is operating.