An afterburner (or a reheat) is an additional component present on some jet engines, mostly military supersonic aircraft. Its purpose is to provide an increase in thrust, usually for supersonic flight, takeoff and for combat situations. Afterburning is achieved by injecting additional fuel into the jet pipe downstream of (i.e. after) the turbine. The advantage of afterburning is significantly increased thrust; the disadvantage is its very high fuel consumption and inefficiency, though this is often regarded as acceptable for the short periods during which it is usually used.

How it works

Jet engine thrust is governed by the general principle of mass flow rate. Thrust depends on two things: the velocity of the exhaust gas and the mass of that gas. A jet engine can produce more thrust by either accelerating the gas to a higher velocity or by having a greater mass of gas exit the engine. Designing a basic turbojet engine around the second principle produces the turbofan engine, which creates slower gas but more of it. Turbofans are highly fuel efficient and can deliver high thrust for long periods of time, but the design trade-off is a large size relative to the power output. To generate the increased power with a more compact engine for short periods of time, an engine requires an afterburner. The afterburner increases thrust primarily by accelerating the exhaust gas to a higher velocity. While the mass of the fuel added to the exhaust does contribute to an increase in thrust, this effect is small compared to the increase in exhaust velocity.

Visual Indications

Afterburners do produce markedly enhanced thrust as well as (typically) a very large flame at the back of the engine. This exhaust flame may show shock diamonds, which are caused by shock waves formed due to slight differences between ambient pressure and the exhaust pressure. These imbalances cause oscillations in the exhaust jet diameter over distance and cause the visible banding where the pressure and temperature is highest.


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