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Stefan Frei, Urban Mäder - Case Study 2006 Technology and Inovation
Technology Speed of Civil Jet Engines
Stefan Frei, Urban Mäder
Abstract. In this paper, the speed of technology of civil jet engines is investigated. A fundamental limit is found to exist by the second law of thermodynamics, but it is not reached yet. A technology measure based on airplane efficiency is derived and applied to jet airlines of different sizes and time periods, ranging back to the 1960’s.
Since the dawn of modern aviation, when Wilbur and Orville Wright performed the first powered flight of mankind on the 17th December 1903, aviation has particularly been driven by technology and innovation. It was the invention of aerodynamic flight control and the availability of the new, powerful combustion engines that ultimately allowed the Wright’s flyer to take off from the ground and stay in the air.
Civil mass aviation started to be popular in the 30ies, much assisted by technologically ground-breaking planes, such as the DC-3. The two world wars further expedited technological advances in aviation. At the end of WW II the first jet-powered fighter aircrafts had already flown. Only few years later, the first jet-powered commercial airliners doubled the speed of then established, propeller-driven designs.
Soon, focus was shifted from “faster, larger, further” to economical- and ecological considerations. This paper aims to investigate improvements made in these areas. The time examined time period ranges from early 60ies to today, thus comparing the first modern airliners (Boeing 707 and DC-8) with today’s flagships.
The paper is organised as follows: In Section 2, the history and the working principle of jet engines are discussed. In Section 3, main technology drivers and limits are discussed. In Section 4, a measure for technology speed is proposed, while this measure index is applied to real data in Section 5. The paper finally concludes in Section 6.
2. History of Jet Engine Technology
Piston engines turned out to be a major bottleneck for more powerful airplanes in late 30ies . The power (or thrust) they could deliver was limited, since the tips of a propeller must not rotate faster than the speed of sound, the efficiency decreases rapidly. Also, a propeller system is limited in the maximum speed it can achieve, since thrust decreases relatively quickly at higher aircraft speeds.
To overcome these difficulties, several alternatives to the turbojet were under consideration, most notably the thermojet, which employed a piston engine for compressing the air, which would then be burned
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