Learn about the history and development of the gas turbine
gas turbine has become an important, widespread, and reliable device
in the field of power generation, transportation and other applications.
A gas turbine is an internal combustion engine, it can burn a variety
of fuels (which contributes to it's great versatility).
of gas turbines:
are many forms of gas turbines from 1 to 10+ meters in length. Gas turbines
come in a great variety of forms to fulfill a variety of power needs
from driving tanks, jets and helicopters to power generation
and industrial power uses.
this webpage we discuss gas turbines used to make electric power.
on you can learn about the many other complex forms of the gas turbine
listed on the wiki
The gas turbine
is used to make mechanical energy from a combustible fuel. In the gas
turbines used to make industrial/electrical power the mechanical energy
comes in the form of a rotating shaft (as opposed to pressurized
thrust of a gas turbine jet engine). This shaft has an enormous amount
of power and torque.
Uses of a
gas turbine with shaft:
The shaft can
be connected to other machinery to do various types of work such as:
turning a helicopter rotor, running a compressor (which "crushes"
a gas to a condensed form for use in industrial applications) or generating
The gas turbine
is useful to our modern world because it is relatively compact in size
and makes a lot of power. Gas turbines are used in backup power systems
in Manhattan for example, when the grid goes down due to natural disaster,
gas turbines power up and can produce power for emergency uses.
are used on oil platforms to make power. The oil platform is like a
small city, isolated out on the water, so it requires a lot of power
and does not have a lot of space. Gas turbines are also used in oil
refineries to make power for the cracking
the power of an explosion: How the device works:
Original graphic above: General Electric.
gas turbine burns fuel in a high pressure combustion chamber, the products
of this are forced into a turbine. A turbine has specially engineered
blades attached to a central shaft, and as the high pressure gasses
flow through, the shaft rotates. The shaft spins with incredible force.
The shaft is often connected to a generator which creates electric power.
Sometimes the shaft is connected to a compressor. Compressors are used
to compress gas or vapor for a myriad of industrial and commercial uses.
the video below to learn details on how the gas turbine works:
Gas Turbine Brief History:
turbines developed from two fields of technology: the steam turbine,
and the internal combustion engine. Work on both of these fields helped
lead to the "Modern Gas Turbine" of the post 1940's period.
- 1870s: Leonardo da Vinci, Gionvanni Branca, John Barber, and others
mention or design devices that use hot gas or steam to create motion.
Simultaneously work by Samuel Brown, Sadi Carnot, Samuel Morel, William
Barnett, and others develop the design of the internal combustion engine.
Basic understanding and theory of how gases burn and behave in enclosed
spaces is developed.
The Steam Turbine
by GE, click on the image to see a larger photo
and Gas Turbine Turbine work Combine:
Charles Parsons built the first steam turbine used in a power
station in Cambridge, England. Charles Curtis (US) develops a
different design and sells the patent to E.W.
Rice at General Electric. Rice gives Curtis all the manpower
and resources he needs to develop the worlds most powerful steam
turbines which are commercially sold across the continent. Dr.
Sanford Moss develops a thesis on gas turbines in 1903, he joins
GE in Massachusetts. Moss Develops the superturbocharger during
World War 1. This device uses hot exhaust gases from an internal
combustion engine to drive a turbine wheel which ran a centrifugal
compressor. This device increased the power output of the engine.
In 1918 GE begins a gas turbine division. This sets the stage
for GE to lead the commercial gas turbine industry decades later.
Dr. A. A. Griffith develops vital theories regarding gas flow
past airfoils vs the previous method of using passages.
use gas turbine technology. This application of gas turbines was developed
first by Sir Frank Whittle, Hans von Ohian, Dr. Franz Anslem, and more
from the 1930-42 period. Jet engine development is another topic best
discussed in a separate page.
first modern Gas Turbine:
BCC Brown Boveri
& Cie (Switzerland) conducts development of gas turbines for utility
power generation starting in the 1930s. Raul pateras de Pescara , Hans
von Ohain, Max Hahn develop their own designs outside of BCC Brown Boveri.
In 1936 BCC Brown Boveri built a supercharged velox boiler for a refinery
in Pennsylvania which was used in the catalytic cracking process for
oil. In 1939 a 4 Megawatt power generation gas turbine is installed
in Neuchatel, Switzerland. You can now see this turbine on display at
Birr, Switzerland. It ran from 1939-2002.
The first commercially
sold gas turbine in the Western Hemisphere used for electric power generation
was installed in 1949 at Belle Isle Station, Oklahoma, US. A core group
of engineers from General Electric pioneered an efficient and power
design that formed the basis for a multi-billion dollar industry. The
design led to an explosion in sales of gas turbines worldwide. Gas turbines
finally had established a firm place in reliable power generation after
the 1949 gas turbine at GE include: Bruce Buckland "Mr. Gas Turbine",
Neal Starkey (GT Control Genius), Arne Loft*, Andy Smith, Bob Kramer,
Bob Hendrickson*, Dick Noe, Tom McKone, Al Boiko, Bill Taylor, Goldy
Goldsworth, Frank Yeaple, George Fusner, Eddie Ouimet, Andy Dargis,
Roy Linn, John Bak, Phil Bell, Fred Cummings, Fernand Pomerleau.
*Video lectures are available
of Arne Loft and Bob Hendrickson
Turbine Development at General Electric
by Arne Loft
started with GE in August, 1923 and retired in 1966 after 42 years
service. He was instrumental in designing many of the early gas
turbines that established GE as one of the leading suppliers of
gas turbines. The first half of his working career was in the
steam turbine business and the second half in gas turbine design.
The following information was extracted from a taped interview
with Bruce in 1980:
About 1937 the GE Locomotive and Car Equipment Division
in Erie, PA wanted the company to design and manufacture an engine
for their locomotives rather than buy somebodys diesel engine.
A. R. Smith, who was then head of the Turbine Engineering Group
responded by organizing a team of people in the Steam Turbine
Engineering Section, including Kenny Salisbury, Alan Howard, Gene
Huntsiger, Larry LaReque, to study the possibilities. Studies
were interrupted in 1941 as a result of a meeting of Alex Stevenson
and Glen Warren with Dr. Durand, head of the N.A.C.A. (Predecessor
of NASA), at which time GE was told to lay aside their plans for
a locomotive engine and turn their attention to aircraft engines.
During this period Roy Schultz and Colonel Don Kern, who were
in England investigating the Whittle jet engine, had made arrangements
to send a sample Whittle engine to the supercharger group.
Dr. Sanford Moss had continued the supercharger research
in Lynn, MA after World War I, consequently Lynn had a good supercharger
department which supplies type B superchargers in almost all of
the Bombers and other aircraft used in WWII. The Lynn Department
was given instructions to develop a Whittle-type jet engine. The
result was the I-16 with 1600 pounds of thrust and used to power
the Bell XP-59. The I-40 was the next jet engine design with 4000
pounds of thrust. Both engine design activities were very secret
in the early stages.
Meanwhile, Alan Howard and his group designed the TG-100, a prop-jet
that developed 2000 horsepower driving the propeller and approximately
500 horsepower in the jet. First flight was in the XP-81 Orion
aircraft which had a TG-100 in the nose driving a propeller and
an I-40 jet in the tail. Removing the prop and doubling the size
of the TG-100 produced an axial flow, pure jet engine design:
the TG-180, with 4000 pounds of thrust. It was about this time
in 1944 that Bruce was assigned to the project to test the TG-180,
which was built in Schenectady. Later, the TG-180 powered the
P-84, P-86, B-45 and B-47.
The locomotive engine design was restarted in mid-1946
and tested in Bldg. 49 the next year. This was followed by tests
with the locomotive in Erie, during which several design problems
were discovered, including fatigue failure of the second stage
bucket within the first three hundred hours of operation. After
completion of locomotive tests in Erie and some initial runs on
the Nickel Plate and Pennsylvania Railroads, the locomotive unit
was loaned to Union Pacific. Union Pacific ran it for about one
year between Cheyenne and Los Angeles before ordering 20 units
in February 1952, primarily for hauling freight. By that time
GE had manufactured two Bangor, two Central Vermont, and one Central
Maine locomotive. This was followed by shipping the first gas
turbine for utility use to Texas Power and Light in late 1952,
the MS3001. GE then sold 20 units of the new two-shaft version,
pipeline gas. By December 1979, one of these units at the Pecos
River Station completed 200,000 hours of service, prompting Howard
Perry to celebrate the event by organizing a party in El Paso.
Meanwhile, GE started to receive orders for many gas pumpers.
In the early 1950s GE provided 10 gas turbine/compressor
drives to Creole Petroleum to pressurize anoil formation
a mile below the surface of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. This
was the first time anybody had put such a station seven or eight
miles from shore in a lake. It was very successful. The ten gas
turbines and compressors were mounted on a platform approximately
two football fields in size and supported by 364 reinforced concrete
piles, about one meter square and 120 feet long, with the lower
half to the mud and the upper half in the lake and over the surface.
During this same period, gas turbines had problems burning Bunker
C fuel. At the end of a six-month test period GE developed
a de-salting scheme using DeLaval centrifuging equipment to remove
the sodium and add magnesium to inhibit the vanadium corrosion.
This resulted in an ash that shucked itself off at shut-down and
proved to be a satisfactory solution provided that the turbine
was operated for intermittent service periods.
Meanwhile, Union Pacific was still looking for a bigger
gas turbine to replace their 9000 HP diesels. Erie locomotive
personnel theorized that the proper size for a locomotive prime
mover was 4500 HP and, if more power was required, the turbines
should be stacked in a row, similar to the diesels. However, Schenectady
quoted an 8500 HP gas turbine in 1952/1953 and Union Pacific ordered
30 units. This was a courageous design in that it had a long span
with only two support bearings. In addition there was an axial
flow resonance and some of the machines on test shed
buckets and suffered dynamic component failures, resulting in
a great many problems. These were successfully cleaned up, including
early wheel failures which were overcome by developing a method
of hot-stretching and cold-proof testing the turbine wheels which
is still used today.
However, the gas turbines were costing more than the market price
and, in the early 60s, two concepts were adopted in order
to reduce the total cost: (1) Enclose the turbine in a packaged
powerplant and (2) Advance order to achieve a six-month delivery
cycle (like to competition) instead of one year. Fortunately for
GE, the big blackout of 1965 in the New York area occurred at
this time and one of the Long Island Light and Power Utility gas
turbines picked up the system from a black start.
This event, coupled with solving the technical problems with the
Frame 5 design was the impetus needed to turn the business around
and is considered the turning point in the gas turbine business.
Special thanks to Arne Loft for this section. Join the Edison
Tech Center team as a volunteer and make your own piece of engineering
Gas Turbine Control Systems:
turbines are extremely sophisticated devices which require precise controls
to operate. Control engineers at General Electric were the first to
design a reliable control system. Neil Starkey designed a mechanical
control which was reliable in the 1940s. A better system was needed
using computers and electronics (which itself had just been developed
at the time). This first electronic system was developed by Arne Loft,
a mechanical/electrical engineer working at GE in Schenectady, New York.
Below is his story of the development of the first Speedtronic Control
System. (Later on Speedtronic became a large product line which controls
more than just gas turbines, but steam turbines and other devices).
on the first Speedtronic Control System below:
The 7 F Gas
Turbine by General Electric (video Youtube):
-History of the
Gas Turbine with Bob Hendrickson by Frank Hackert and the Edison
Tech Center -The Edison Presents: Interview with Arne Loft by the Edison
-Wikipedia (Internal Combustion Engine, Gas Turbine entries)
-About.com Inventors -The General Electric Story by the Hall of History
- ASME.org -Belle Isle Gas Turbine
- The ABB Group, History web page