Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Russians and the high bypass engine in the Cold War

Russians are great in many parts in the aeronautical industry. They built the largest aircraft in history (which are still in use), built some of the best fighter jets and technology related to it. But aircraft engines aren't exactly top notch. While their first inspirations came from    research aircraft and captured German tech, their first successful engine was a reverse engineered clone of the Rolls-Royce Nene engine. The latter came from a visit of the engineers to the plant in England and managed to legally procure a copy for research, creating the Klimov VK-1.

This engine powered aircraft like the Korean War famous Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 and the ubiquitous bomber Ilyushin Il-28 (NATO reporting name: Beagle). The Russians went on to make more powerful engines for their aircraft to properly compete with engines and aircraft from their Cold War adversary, the United States. But the US was able to develop something that the Russians took a while to counter, the high bypass turbofan. As stated before, this engine sucks more air than what goes into the heating chambers in order to provide a cool jet around the heated air in order to provide more propulsion without requiring more powerful engines. This allowed the US military to fly heavier jets while keeping fuel efficiency and great range, like the C-5 Galaxy with the General Electric TF-39 engine (which was the CF6 family of engines that powered all the wide-body, multiple aisle, airliners of that time). 

Russian engines weren't great with low bypass engines (the long & thin looking engines) as they did not have the same performance as those like the TF-39. In fact, the most modern airliner thay had at the time was the Ilyushin Il-86, which was powered by low bypass engine and usually required the entire runway to take off due to the poor performance of these engines. In fact, the Soviet Union tried to make a deal with the United States and Lockheed to purchase a license to make Soviet L-1011 Tristars because of its capabilities and engines (which would have made it the life saver and biggest purchaser of this airline).

Imagine this possibility, one of the strangest and coolest things that could've happened to aviation in the Cold War.

But the technology in the cockpit and engines was too great to share to the Soviets. So aircraft engineer Vladimir Lotarev designed the first high bypass engine for the Soviets, the Lotarev D-36.

It was a small engine, powering medium and small sized aircraft like the unique looking Ukrainian Antonov An-72 (NATO name: Coaler, Russian nickname: Cheburashka, a similarly looking large eared animated character from that region),

Improved version An-74 (Cheburashka/Coaler-A)

the Yakovlev Yak-42 (with the unflattering NATO name: Clobber)
But their advancement to this engineering tech went exponential when the Ivchenko-Progress design bureau, in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, designed the Progress D-18T.

This engine was the largest engine, at the time (beaten by the GEnx, powering the Boeing 787, GE90, powering the 777, and the Engine Alliance GP7000 or the Rolls-Royce Trent 900, either of them powering the Airbus A380), powering the largest mass produced aircraft today,Antonov An-124 (NATO name: Condor)
and the largest aircraft ever, the swansong that is the An-225 Mriya (Russian for dream/inspiration, NATO name: Cossack). 
It would be ten years before the west surpassed the Russian and Ukrainian designs with the General Electric GE90 and the others previously mentioned. The Dream/Cossack continues to be the largest aircraft flying and the Condor is somewhat larger than the largest airliner, the A380. It is likely that Ukraine pushes manufacturing of the An-124, assuming things calm down between Ukraine and Russia due to ownership of designs of that aircraft. One can only Dream, at least we will have the American/Russian collaboration with the GE90 engines (Boeing 777-300ER):

Images provided by Wikimedia Commons.

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