Aircraft Engines: The Power of Flight

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As many of you may know, we have some amazing volunteers here at the museum and those that work on our many engines are no exception. The Museum’s latest display, located in the Jet Age Gallery at our main location in Balboa Park, features some of their fine work in an array of various types of engines. The display tells a story of the evolution of aircraft engines and demonstrates, by our selection, a representative sample of engine development through the years.

The ongoing evolution of aircraft engines was punctuated by a revolution in development during the two World Wars of the 20th century. These conflicts greatly accelerated the development of more powerful and reliable engines. This “arms race” of engines was critical to those engaged in aerial combat where a few more horsepower could mean the difference in life and death.

Reciprocating engines were the standard through the first half of the 20th century and through both wars. This changed however in a very dramatic way with the introduction of the jet engine in the waning months of WWII. Both allied and Axis countries were perfecting this new type of propulsion in those last few months, and this ushered in a new era in aircraft engines that would forever change air warfare, not to mention civilian air travel. We have some great interactive examples of both reciprocating and jet engines in the display.

As I mentioned, our volunteers can do just about anything when handed the task of preparing an engine for display. They get very excited when we discuss their next project and give them a box of parts that were at one time a running engine. At some point later on, they come to me and ask me to look that the finished product. I guess we shouldn’t be amazed at their stunning work, but knowing what an engine looked like when it came in, and the contrast to their finished product, it always amazes us.

The Museum has many engines down in our restoration basement and will be changing out them out from time-to-time so more of the work of the volunteers can be seen by our guests. Please come by and take a look at the new display (near the Museum exit at the back entrance to the Gift shop) and give us your feedback. We have a couple of videos playing along with the engines on display, and hopefully they will enhance our visitors experience and understanding of this critical aspect of the aviation industry.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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