The Major Differences between Radial and Gas Turbine Engines

Since the advent of aircraft in 1903, an astounding number of innovations have been made to engines, performance, and more. While there are a number of aircraft that serve diverse applications ranging from civil to defense roles, many aircraft still utilize similar engines to generate propulsion. Across engine types, two of the most common engines are the radial and turbine engine, and each provides their own unique benefits that cater to varying needs. In this blog, we will provide an overview of the radial and turbine engine, as well as discuss their primary differences to allow you to have a better understanding of each engine type.

The radial engine is a type of reciprocating engine, serving as one of the first propulsion generating apparatuses for aircraft. With the invention of the radial engine in 1901, the type quickly found implementation within a number of aircraft, even serving for many combat aircraft during World War I. As an internal combustion engine, cylinders are placed in a circle around an aircraft crankcase similarly to the spokes of a wheel. Due to the coplanar axis of the cylinders, pistons are attached to the crankshaft through a master-and-articulating-rod assembly, though one is connected through a master rod that is directly attached to the crankshaft. 

With an odd number of cylinders placed in each row, the radial engine follows a four-stroke combustion process that results in a firing order that remains consistent with every other piston. As such, the engine provides smooth operation as each piston conducts its combustion process, and a one-piston gap is left between the piston on compression and the piston on the combustion stroke. If the engine was to use an even amount of cylinders per row, the firing would not be equally timed, and thus would be less smooth and efficient. Similar to a variety of engines that rely on the four-stroke combustion process, each piston requires two revolutions of the crankshaft in order to finish the process of intaking air, compressing it, combusting the fuel and air mixture, and expelling exhaust.

Gas turbines, also known as combustion turbines, are also a type of internal combustion engine that serve a variety of aircraft. Combustion engines hold a deep history that extends back to the year 50 AD, though they were not advanced enough and were not commonly utilized for aircraft until much later during the 20th century in which the Junkers Jumo 004 engine began to be used for outfitting German military jets in the 1940s. Since then, the gas turbine engine has quickly gained popularity, often serving as one of the most common engine types for producing thrust and propulsion for flight.

While gas turbine engines vary from aircraft to aircraft, all rely on common components including a rotating gas compressor, combustor, and a downstream turbine that is connected to the compressor with a common shaft. During typical operation, the gas turbine undergoes four stages of thermodynamic processes, and these include compression, constant pressure combustion, expansion of exhaust gases, and heat expulsion.

For the first step of gas turbine engine operation, the compressor draws atmospheric air into the engine, compressing it to reach pressure levels that are closer to air at sea level. This compressed air is then transferred to the combustion system which is composed of a ring of fuel injectors in which streams of fuel are sprayed into the compressed air for mixture. Once an oxygen rich mixture of fuel is created, the mixture is ignited within the combustion system. The combustion of fuel results in rapidly expanding gases that can reach temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. With the pressure of these expanding gases, exhaust is forced through the turbine section, that of which is composed of stationary and rotating aerofoil blades. As the exhaust pases through the blades, they begin to rotate rapidly. By harnessing this mechanical power, the compressor is driven to bring in more pressurized air, creating a perpetual operation. Furthermore, the spinning blades also help drive a generator, allowing for the aircraft to receive more electricity.

While this functionality of gas turbine engines holds true for most types, the makeup of the engine may differ by type in order to accommodate various needs and aircraft. Generally, the main types of gas turbine engines include the jet engine, turboprop engine, aeroderivative gas turbines, amaterur gas turbines, auxiliary power units, and much more. Beyond aerospace applications, gas turbine engines also serve a variety of other industries, powering trains, ships, tanks, pumps, electrical generators, and gas compressors.

While both the radial engine and gas turbine engine both provide the generation of propulsion and thrust for aircraft flight, both achieve such results through different methods and components. As compared to the gas turbine engine, radial engines may feature a large frontal area that may be placed on the outside of the aircraft, and this sometimes causes a loss of aerodynamics as drag may occur due to parts being placed in the airflow. Gas turbine engines are also capable of producing the power needed to travel at rapid speeds that outmatch radial engines, though they perform with less fuel efficiency and are much louder during their operation. Lastly, some pilots may find that aircraft with radial engines are more difficult to pilot in certain situations such as takeoff and landings. Nevertheless, both engines prove quite beneficial for a number of aircraft types, and deciding between the two often comes down to what aircraft you will be flying and your particular needs.

When you are in need of parts and components that you can steadily rely on for your radial and gas turbine engines, ASAP Buying is your sourcing solution. As a premier supplier of aviation, NSN, and electronic parts, we can provide customers with rapid lead-times and competitive pricing on over 2 billion items that we list across our robust database. We invite you to explore our part catalogues at your leisure, and you may begin the purchasing process at any time by filling out and submitting an Instant RFQ form. Once received, a member of our staff will reach out to you in 15 minutes or less with a personalized quote that specifically caters to your individual needs.


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