posted on Apr, 12 2019 @ 12:16 PM
So there are a couple basic ways to create thrust for conventional jet air planes.
Thrust is Newtonian. You throw mass out the back going faster than the air is already moving, and an equal opposite reaction occurs. The mass in a jet
engine is air (primarily. Occasionally they inject water, there's also fuel in there, but mostly it's just a lot of air). So really at it's base
we're looking at F=m*a. There are a lot of variables affecting the mass to account for, and airspeed at intake to account for, but we're accelerating
a mass of air out the back.
So there's a couple ways to produce X-amount of thrust.
One way is to take a given volume of air, run it through the compressor and combustion chamber, and throw it out the back going really, really fast.
That is generally inefficient. That's the root of a simple turbojet engine. Speed up the air really fast, kick it out the back.
Another way to get the same amount of thrust is to use a bigger fan or propellers to move a lot more air. This takes energy away from the core, and
sends it down a shaft moving the fan/propellers, so we are moving more airmass, but accelerating it more slowly to make M*A still equal the first
method. This is generally more efficient, but has losses to the shaft, reducing gears, etc. Also, as airspeed increases in your inlet, thrust goes
down quickly, because the air is not being accelerated as much when it leaves. Since the acceleration is smaller, the thrust drops off at speed more
quickly than the first method.
A propfan is basically a turbofan like the second method. But it moves even more air with larger unducted fans at a lower acceleration to produce
X-ampunts of thrust. At higher air speeds, it has to work harder to accelerate it more.
Tangential speed is quite high for the fan tips, so there is a practical limit to fan/blade diameter that is coupled with rpms. If I double my
propfan's diameter, I double the tangential speed of the tip at the same engine RPM. Since the blades are losing efficiency at higher speeds because
of drag and compressibility, this rapidly becomes a game of diminishing returns. Also, as the vehicles speed through the air increases, it needs to
accelerate the air faster than that flow. If the exit speed of my exhaust efflux is 700mph, but I am traveling at 650mph, I am only accelerating the
air 50mph. And my prop tips are meeting the air even faster than they would on the ground at zero air speed and the same RPM.
Related to tip speed is the noise level. Quite high in the cabin for a propfan.
The biggest issue facing propfans right now is the efficiency is tied to a generally lower speed than a turbofan and that it is more mechanically
complex. Also the fact that everytime someone seemingly makes a break through on propfan efficiency, they realize turbofans are increasing efficiency
at the same or higher rate.
The airlines wouldn't care about the speed as much if the efficiency was high enough. If my engine is 25% more efficient in flight, but my flight is
ten percent longer because of lower flight speeds to get that efficiency, I'm not really getting 25% efficiency over the first aircraft. And if my
engines need more frequent service times, that is more time my plane is sitting on the ground doing nothing, and if my airplane is uncomfortably
noisy, passengers aren't super happy. You can shield noise from the ground, but it's hard to hide it from the cabin.