Juan David's Newsletter - September 4th, 2022
The History of the Jet Engine From Newton to Whittle
Hello my friends,
College started and it’s easy to get lost in nonsense, especially thinking the future is random. But it’s not. There is surely luck but 90% isn’t luck so doing things like cool projects, finding interesting people, and following my curiosity is the way to get back.
This week we recorded the first UIUC Talkshow episode of the semester and my GOODNESS! I love doing it, I have so much fun.
I don't know what you've been told
But time is running out, no need to take it slow
I Ain't Worried By OneRepublic, Top Gun: Maverick
The future is exciting so let’s get there and let’s have fun.
This week’s essay is about the history of the most beautiful engineering masterpiece, the history of the jet engine.
If you haven’t read the essay on The Jet Engine, I’d recommend you start there.
The History of the Jet Engine From Newton to Whittle
This essay draft is part of an upcoming mega essay (or book) of an exploration of teaching myself EVERYTHING on Flying from Hidden History to Hardcore Engineering.
Usually, I like to start with history but let’s start with a little bit of physics.
In the 18th century, Isaac Newton was the first person to theorize the creation of some sort of propulsion system using his third law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. He thought that if you create a backward explosion, you could propel a machine forward.
Clever guy, I must admit.
But with cleverness alone, nothing gets built. It was then Henri Giffard who built the Giffard dirigible, an airship using the first aircraft engine, a three-horse power steam engine that drove the propeller. This massive airship weighed over 400 pounds (180 kg) but that didn’t stop it from working. In fact, on the first powered and controlled flight in 1852, Giffard traveled 27 km where he proved he was able to make turns and circles, showing the powered airship could be steered and controlled.
Thank you, Giffard. Up next, we have Felix du Temple de la Croix and his brother, who in 1874, built a monoplane using a coal-fired steam engine.
This aluminum-made plane weighed about 80 kg (without the pilot). It flew a short hop down a hill with the help of the engine. Some people claim this was possibly the first successful powered flight in history but it all depends on the definition since the flight was only a short distance and a short time.
If you haven’t noticed yet, the French were killing it with so much innovation and inventors.
But of course, the Germans came along and it was Otto Daimler who in the late 1800s invented the forerunner of the modern gasoline engine.
This guy Otto is also known as the father of motorcycle after creating the first internal combustion motorcycle engine and successfully designed the world’s first four-wheeled automobile, which led Daimler to create a company called DMG which was later merged with another guy you may have heard of, Karl Benz, the company was then named Daimler-Benz and adopted Mercedes-Benz as its automobile trademark.
Yeah, no big deal. Anyways, let’s continue.
The Germans went along and I don’t have to tell you this but their inventions and hard work made them create lovely cars, even today. While cars are cool, planes are way cooler. Their car engine inventions helped ambitious inventors across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean do the impossible and pioneer the art of flying.
Enter the Americans.
In 1894, Hiram Maxim created a triple biplane with two coal-fired steam engines but it only flew for a few seconds. These steam engines used heated cool and were way too heavy for flight.
While Maxim wasn’t super successful with flight, without him our world would be unrecognizable due to his numerous inventions from hair-curling irons, mousetraps, and steam pumps to automatic machine guns, automatic fire sprinklers, and smokeless powder.
I know, what the actual fuck?!!!
Perhaps more curiously when Maxim was experimenting with flight, he needed money so he designed a super successful amusement ride called the “Captive Flying Machine” to 1) fund his research, and 2) arouse the public interest in flight.
Everyone loved it and it still operates to this day at the Pleasure Beach amusement park, being the oldest amusement ride in Europe.
Next time you have an idea for an invention and can’t raise money, create an amusement park.
Hiram Maxim was such an interesting guy but couldn’t quite achieve flight.
It was another American Samuel Langley whom we have talked about before, he successfully flew an unmanned airplane using a steam engine called the Aerodrome but wasn’t able to create what two brothers did a few years later.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers flew The Flyer, with a 12-horsepower gas-powered engine.
Using this power engine was such a great idea that from 1903 to the late 1930s, using the gas-powered internal combustion engine with a propeller was the only way how people used to propel aircraft.
Someone else out there must have said, “Come on. That just can’t be it. There needs to be something better and faster.”
I don’t know whether this guy said this or not but Frank Whittle, a British pilot and engineer, designed and flew the first turbojet engine called the Whittle engine, which first flew successfully in 1941.
This engine had a compressor, a combustion chamber, a turbine, and a nozzle. Sounds familiar? I’d thought so.
At the same time when Frank Whittle was working in England, someone, in Germany, named Hans von Ohain was also working on a similar engine design. von Ohain successfully used a gas turbine engine and flew it on the Heinkel He 178, which became the first turbojet-powered aircraft in the world. It also went on to reach a maximum speed of 650 km/h (403 mph), a lottttt faster than any other piston-engined aircraft of the day.
Once it was invented and proven that it worked, General Electric built the first American jet engine for the US Air Force. The Bell XP-59A experimental aircraft flew in October 1942.
After World War II ended, the Allies studied extensively the German planes and gathered lots of inspiration for future designs. By the 1950s, the jet engine was the de facto combat aircraft. By the 1960s, all large civilian aircraft were also jet-powered and step by step, the turboprop engine pushed the piston engine out of the mainstream, leaving it to small general aviation.
From invention to mainstream and universal use, the jet engine took about 20 years. But still, that wasn’t enough as the jet engine wasn’t the best with fuel efficiency in comparison to the piston engines but once the invention of the high bypass jet engines took place, there was nothing better like it and the jet engine was once and for all, the go-to engine.
If you’re still curious, I’d recommend you read:
And The UIUC Talkshow is back!!!!!!
Why do we have so much? Because we have conversations!!! Sounds simple but there are things you can only learn through conversation.
It’s not perfect because the cameras sometimes add a filter but as long as we speak from the heart and make the guest comfortable, we’ll be on our interesting way to have the most fun possible.
Juan David Campolargo