Published: 1 September 2008
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2008
The Development of Jet and Turbine Aero Engines, 4th ed., by Bill
Gunston. Haynes North America (http:/www.haynes.com), 861 Lawrence Drive,
Newbury Park, California 91320, 2006, 254 pages, $22.95 (softcover).
As the title suggests, The Development of Jet and Turbine Aero Engines offers a historical look at turbine and other jet-type engines such as rocket, pulse-jet, and ramjet. The primary focus, however, is on gas turbines, including turbojet, turbofan, turboshaft, and turboprop types. As in author Bill Gunston’s similar book on reciprocating engines, The Development of Piston Aero Engines, this book is divided into two parts. The first (“How Gas Turbines Work”) describes operating principles, function and configuration of major components, and materials used in construction. The second (“The Historical Story”) starts with the pioneers (long before Frank Whittle and Hans von Ohain, by the way) and characterizes the development of all jet and turbine engines up to the present with update chapters for each edition.
Though technical, part 1 is not as dense as a textbook. The author’s straightforward style should not be intimidating to anybody interested in the subject. In the introduction, Gunston suggests that “if the casual reader does find it heavy going, skip it and read Part II.” Those who do so will miss all the fun. Every component—from the compressor to the combustor, turbine, jet pipe, nozzle, and auxiliaries—went through its own evolution of improvement to get to an integrated machine that actually worked. Moving from that point (with really abysmal pressure ratios) to the mechanical masterpieces of today makes for a fascinating trip that no reader wants to miss. I’ve been in the jet-engine test business for 27 years, so descriptions of early test methods and the iterative process of development are especially interesting to me, but every chapter is full of challenges that the engineers, designers, and craftsmen met and solved, one at a time. Like any other great enterprise, the development of turbine engines is really a story about people making things happen, and the author tells their story well.
Part 2 starts with a look at the earliest attempts at designing and building
a power-producing gas-turbine engine. Of course, turbomachinery had been in use
long before World War II in the form of steam turbines for ship propulsion and
electrical-power generation as well as water turbines in hydroelectric plants.
Gas turbines, using waste gas from steel production, drove blast-furnace
compressors in the early 1900s. There was much interest in internal-combustion
gas turbines and some early attempts at development, but of course the ability
to design efficient compressors and turbines, together with the lack of
materials able to retain strength at high temperatures, made turbine engines
suitable for aircraft propulsion impractical. All that began to change in the
1930s when Germany initiated development of gas turbines with full government
backing. In contrast, the Allies concentrated on optimizing piston engines and
paid only marginal attention to turbines. Poor Whittle had to develop his engine
with little funding and support while von Ohain and others had all the finances
and engineering support they could ask for. The hardware and concepts that the
Germans produced are truly amazing, even compared to today’s products. If they’d
had more time and better materials, the war’s end might have played out
Since then, the story of jet engines has been one of constant evolution based on development of better materials; improved control systems; and design of more efficient compressors, combustors, and turbines. Gunston follows this theme through reviews of products from all the major manufacturers and countries of origin up to the present day. His more than 50 years in the business, authorship of more than 380 aviation-related books, and status as editor of Flight magazine give him much credibility, and the result is a very readable piece that anyone interested in aircraft and/or engineering history will enjoy.
Arnold AFB, Tennessee
conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the
author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of
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