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What is a Turboprop Engine?

Turboprop powered aircraft are often used by militaries and commercial carriers for short to medium range flights between airports with small runways.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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Turboprop engines are one form of a gas turbine engine that is used in aircraft of varying sizes. Much of the power that is generated by a turbo prop engine goes toward the task of driving an exterior propeller. Generally today, a turboprop engine is an option that is used with smaller planes that do not require the stronger power and functionality of a turbojet engine.

Turboprops have their origin in the first half of the 20th century. Most historians agree that the first true turboprop engine was developed in Hungary. Gvorgy Jendrassik is considered to the father of the turboprop, with his first small scale design for the engine appearing in 1937. More elaborate designs and extensive testing were conducted in a factory in Budapest between the years of 1939 and 1942.

The United Kingdom was the site of the production and sale of the earliest mass marketed turbo prop engines. The Rolls Royce Company developed and marketed the RB.50 Trent, considered by many to have set the standard for later developments in turboprop technology. Rolls Royce made use of the knowledge acquired during the development of the Trent and later produced a highly reliable turboprop engine known as the Dart. The design and function of the Dart was such that production of the engine continued for over fifty years.

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In the United States, the first American made turboprop engine is generally understood to be the General Electric T-31. Much of the efforts on US models of the turboprop engine were focused on military utilization rather than passenger or private aircraft. Several designs over the years proved helpful in various war situations, and in time the technology also found a niche market among the private planes manufactured in the nation.

Essentially, the turboprop engine is a simple device that includes a turbine, intake, combustor, compressor, and a propelling nozzle. Air flow is processed by the intake and then passed to the compressor. Fuel is added to the compressed air as it passes into the combustor, creating the energy as the mixture passes into the turbine. It is within the turbine that the power used to drive both the propellers and the engine proper is created. A portion of the power keeps the compressor functioning and continuing to pass air into the combustor. The remainder is passed through the propelling nozzle and helps to create the thrust generated by the propeller.

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