Propulsion usually refers to the engine technology which supplies the energy needed to get an aircraft from the end of a runway into the air and keep it there - and people usually think of the jet engine or a single or twin propellor engines seen on large and small passenger planes.
Propulsion systems for aircraft have undergone massive and rapid change since the early days of powered flight to achieve today's very high-power density gas turbine engines which today power people and airframes for thousands of miles at speeds around Mach 0.85 at 9 miles above sea level non-stop from London to Los Angeles.
There are also all kinds of aircraft engines in use today including the vertical thrust engines which allow the jump-jet Harrier to take off and land without any runway, and of course, spacecraft have relied on rockets to get into space - although the engineering ingenuity behind the new Virgin Galactic Spaceship have shown that there is always a new way of doing things!
Achieving high efficiency, low pollution and above all, safe engines requires the expertise and skill of many aerospace professionals, including (but not limited to):
- materials specialists
- acoustic experts
- heat transfer engineers
- stress analysts
These specialists work together, 'trading off' various competing technical issues to optimise the final design. Accomplishing this feat for a new engine for a commercial product requires thousands of person-years of effort, and investments of hundreds of millions of pounds.
Aviation is increasingly being recognised as a small, but rapidly growing source of environmental pollutants, including noise. The aviation industry is investing huge amounts in research to reduce the environmental impact of its engines. In order to achieve greener aircraft further requires significant advances in propulsive design technology with a major influence on future projects and research. There will be many novel and exciting opportunities to join and address this challenge. For example, new fuel research into the potential of biofuels or hydrogen cells, new blade technology and materials, engine positioning and more. The balance also between fuel efficiency and noise reduction is also more difficult to acheive.
For the design, production and in-service support of propulsion systems all engineering, manufacturing and management disciplines are required in the but most importantly, the solutions of the future rely on new innovative thinkers who can develop the next generation of propulsive technology for the 21st Century and beyond. Will you follow in the footsteps of the UK innovator Whittle and transform aeroengine technology for the low-carbon economy of the future?