The Dazzling Physics of the Boeing 787's Engines

Seattle Times: What metallic object spins at supersonic speeds, about 900 mph, and operates at a temperature half as hot as the sun?

The 787's Rolls-Royce engine.

Actually, any modern jet engine approaches this astonishing performance. The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 powering the Dreamliner is just the most efficient example being produced today.

Bill Boyd, the new head of Rolls-Royce's Boeing support office in Seattle, just gave a briefing on the engine that began with the utterly dazzling engineering behind the engine.

Steel starts to glow red at 1,292 degrees F, but inside the engine core the temperature reaches higher than 3,000 degrees F. Somehow the engineers contrive with special coatings and heat distribution to prevent the metal from melting.

Meanwhile the tips of the hollow titanium fan blades at the front are spinning at 900 mph. At take-off, the force on each blade is equivalent to hanging a freight train off the blade, Boyd said.

And inside the core, many little three-inch blades turn, each one producing as much power as a NASCAR auto in an environment that is beyond the melting point of the metal.

It's physics that seems like magic.

The Rolls-Royce engine is certified to fly 5.5 hours ETOPS (i.e. the plane is certified to fly that long with one engine out.)

And while the 787 is in service, a team of Rolls-Royce engineers will monitor the engines while in flight via a radio frequency data communications and detect any degradation in performance that might need to be dealt with upon landing.

The Dreamliner's Trent 1000, Boyd said, is "the most efficient, highest technology production engine in the world today."


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