NASA’s New Tiny Engine Will Enable New Ultra-Efficient Airplanes

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NASA has been conducting experiments using a small-scale, fully working jet engine to advance sustainable aviation technology a part of today’s general drive to make the aviation sector more sustainable.

The DGEN380 Aero-Propulsion Research Turbofan (DART) engine is small enough to sit on a tabletop, measuring only 1.3 meters, nearly half the size of engines seen in medium-sized aircraft.

According to Interesting Engineering, this engine enables researchers and engineers to test new engine components without needing a costly full-sized jet engine test rig. It is compact and very powerful, capable of producing 570 pounds of thrust. The DGEN380 has several primary turbo machinery parts: a high-pressure turbine, a high-speed shaft, a compressor, and a low-pressure turbine. It also boasts a high bypass ratio, meaning that its design allows a large part of incoming air to bypass the engine core. Interestingly, this design both enables higher fuel efficiency and emits less noise, bringing the DART engine closer in abilities to bigger engines that are used in commercial aircraft.

These high-tech features make the engine ideal for testing next-gen propulsion techniques. Indeed, NASA’s engineers aim to use the engine in their efforts to develop a new small-core, fuel-efficient jet engine for commercial airliners by 2030.

Dan Sutliff, who coordinates research for the engine at NASA Glenn, explained in a press release: “DART is a critical bridge between a design and a wind tunnel test. Technologies that work well here have a greater chance of achieving successful inclusion in future aircraft engines. The test rig helps NASA save resources and contribute to protecting our environment.”

The DART engine can also be used as a testing bed for evaluating engine noise, engine protection coatings, sensors, and other instruments. It was used in the past to assist NASA researchers in understanding how integrating materials might aid in minimizing engine noise.