Today, various engines exist for aviation purposes, and the choice between each will often come down to the particular role and needs of the aircraft in question. The turboprop engine is a common turbine engine subtype that burns fuel-and-air mixtures to drive propeller assemblies, and they are most commonly found on aircraft models of all sizes. While turboprop engines may vary in their exact design, most feature a similar set of parts and operations which we will discuss briefly in this blog.
Unlike other turbine engines, the turboprop engine is known for its reverse flow operations where large amounts of air are scooped into intakes until they are reflected off of the engine firewall at the back of the assembly. From there, the air will move toward the front of the aircraft before hooking back to the combustor and turbine. By reversing the flow of air through the assembly, the overall engine can be compactly constructed for the benefit of space.
As air reflects off the firewall, it will enter an axial flow compressor featuring a series of airfoil-shaped blades that rapidly spin. Each set of blades will be smaller as air moves further into the compressor, allowing for energy and compression to be added. Between each set of blades is a non-moving set of blades known as stators, and they increase air pressure through the conversion of rotational energy into static energy. This is beneficial as it allows for the flow of air to be straightened and stabilized. At the very end of the compressor, air will move through a centrifugal flow compressor before being routed to the combustion chamber through a 90 degree turn.
The next stage of the engine is the combustor where compressed air is mixed with fuel before being ignited. The combustor is a fairly complex section, tasked with ensuring a constant and stable combustion of fuel-and-air mixtures. As compressed air will enter the combustor at a rapid speed, a diffuser will slow the flow so that it is easier to ignite. With a dome and swirler, air can be made more turbulent for easier fuel mixing. Once fuel is sprayed into the air, igniters will combust the mixture to create high-pressure exhaust gasses that move toward the turbine assembly.
The turbine assembly consists of a series of airfoil shaped blades that harness the kinetic energy of exhaust gasses as they pass through the assembly. The extracted energy will cause the compressor turbine to spin, driving its connected engine shaft. This shaft then drives the compressor section and other various accessories, allowing the operations of the engine to be self-sustaining once combustion begins. Generally, about 70% of the total energy created through combustion is used to drive the compressor section and all other engine-driven accessories. With the last 30%, the turboprop propellers can be spun.
In order to drive the propeller with an optimal amount of RPM, a reduction gearbox is used to maintain a redline of around 1900 RPM. With the spinning of the propellers, thrust may be produced for forward momentum and flight. After all sections are driven, the remaining exhaust gas will be vented out of the engine through the exhaust section of the assembly.
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