Operating the Jet Engine (Part One)

In a jet engine, thrust is determined by the amount of fuel injected into the combustion chamber. The power controls on most turbojet-and turbofan-powered airplanes consist of just one thrust lever for each engine, because most engine control functions are automatic. The thrust lever is linked to a fuel control and/or electronic engine computer that meters fuel flow based upon revolutions per minute (rpm), internal temperatures, ambient conditions, and other factors. [Figure 15-3]

Figure 15-3. Jet engine power controls.

Figure 15-3. Jet engine power controls.


In a jet engine, each major rotating section usually has a separate gauge devoted to monitoring its speed of rotation. Depending on the make and model, a jet engine may have an N1 gauge that monitors the low-pressure compressor section and/or fan speed in turbofan engines. The gas generator section may be monitored by an N2 gauge, while triple spool engines may have an N3 gauge as well. Each engine section rotates at many thousands of rpm. Their gauges therefore are calibrated in percent of rpm rather than actual rpm, for ease of display and interpretation. [Figure 15-4]

Figure 15-4. Jet engine RPM gauges.

Figure 15-4. Jet engine RPM gauges.

The temperature of turbine gases must be closely monitored by the pilot. As in any gas turbine engine, exceeding temperature limits, even for a very few seconds, may result in serious heat damage to turbine blades and other components. Depending on the make and model, gas temperatures can be measured at a number of different locations within the engine. The associated engine gauges therefore have different names according to their location. For instance:

  • Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT)—the temperature of the exhaust gases as they enter the tail pipe after passing through the turbine.
  • Turbine Inlet Temperature (TIT)—the temperature of the gases from the combustion section of the engine as they enter the first stage of the turbine. The TIT is the highest temperature inside a gas turbine engine and is one of the limiting factors of the amount of power the engine can produce. TIT, however, is difficult to measure. Therefore, EGT, which relates to TIT, is normally the parameter measured.
  • Interstage Turbine Temperature (ITT)—the temperature of the gases between the high-pressure and low-pressure turbine wheels.
  • Turbine Outlet Temperature (TOT)—like EGT, turbine outlet temperature is taken aft of the turbine wheel(s).

Jet Engine Ignition

Most jet engine ignition systems consist of two igniter plugs, which are used during the ground or air starting of the engine. Once the start is completed, this ignition either automatically goes off or is turned off, and from this point on, the combustion in the engine is a continuous process.

Continuous Ignition

An engine is sensitive to the flow characteristics of the air that enters the intake of the engine nacelle. So long as the flow of air is substantially normal, the engine continues to run smoothly. However, particularly with rear-mounted engines that are sometimes in a position to be affected by disturbed airflow from the wings, there are some abnormal flight situations that could cause a compressor stall or flameout of the engine. These abnormal flight conditions would usually be associated with abrupt pitch changes such as might be encountered in severe turbulence or a stall.

In order to avoid the possibility of engine flameout from the above conditions, or from other conditions that might cause ingestion problems, such as heavy rain, ice, or possible bird strike, most jet engines are equipped with a continuous ignition system. This system can be turned on and used continuously whenever the need arises. In many jets, as an added precaution, this system is normally used during takeoffs and landings. Many jets are also equipped with an automatic ignition system that operates both igniters whenever the airplane stall warning or stick shaker is activated.


Fuel Heaters

Because of the high altitudes and extremely cold outside air temperatures in which the jet flies, it is possible to supercool the jet fuel to the point that the small particles of water suspended in the fuel can turn to ice crystals and clog the fuel filters leading to the engine. For this reason, jet engines are normally equipped with fuel heaters. The fuel heater may be of the automatic type that constantly maintains the fuel temperature above freezing, or they may be manually controlled by the pilot.

Setting Power

On some jet airplanes, thrust is indicated by an engine pressure ratio (EPR) gauge. EPR can be thought of as being equivalent to the manifold pressure on the piston engine. EPR is the difference between turbine discharge pressure and engine inlet pressure. It is an indication of what the engine has done with the raw air scooped in. For instance, an EPR setting of 2.24 means that the discharge pressure relative to the inlet pressure is 2.24:1. On these airplanes, the EPR gauge is the primary reference used to establish power settings. [Figure 15-5]

Figure 15-5. EPR gauge.

Figure 15-5. EPR gauge.

Fan speed (N1) is the primary indication of thrust on most turbofan engines. Fuel flow provides a secondary thrust indication, and cross-checking for proper fuel flow can help in spotting a faulty N1 gauge. Turbofans also have a gas generator turbine tachometer (N2). They are used mainly for engine starting and some system functions.

In setting power, it is usually the primary power reference (EPR or N1) that is most critical and is the gauge that first limits the forward movement of the thrust levers. However, there are occasions where the limits of either rpm or temperature can be exceeded. The rule is: movement of the thrust levers must be stopped and power set at whichever the limits of EPR, rpm, or temperature is reached first.