Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fun with numbers while walking

Walk in San Francisco, July 16, 2016

Yesterday I went for a walk in San Francisco. To pass the time and keep my mind off the Pokemon Go players making pedestrian traffic in Golden Gate Park hazardous, I decided to do a few approximate calculations about jet engines.

Let's say a jet engine used as a gas generator produces 22 000Lbs (= 10 000 kgf or 100 000 Newton, approximately) of thrust at a nozzle velocity of 720 km/h. How much air is it moving?

To generate thrust, a mass $m$ of air is accelerated from zero to 720 km/h (200 m/s) per second. The thrust is given by $F= ma$, so the flow, or mass/second, is 100 000/200 or 500kg/s. Since air density is about 1g/l at ground level, we need 500 cubic meters of air to go through the engine per second. That's the volume of a large room (20 by 10 meters surface, 2.5 meters ceiling) per second.

Just for fun, how much power is the engine generating? Considering only the kinetic energy imparted to the air (per second, since we're interested in power), we have $1/2 \times 500 \times (200)^2$, or 10  MW. Of course, since the air is very hot, some more power could be recovered using heat exchangers on the power turbine exhaust gases (making it a Brayton-Rankine combined cycle power plant).

Since a gas generator has an efficiency of around 1/3, this turbine will need about 30 megajoule of chemical energy per second entering the combustors, or about one liter of jet fuel every 1.2 seconds. (Looked up jet fuel energy density on my phone while walking --- ain’t living in the future grand? In the past I'd have to look that up in Perry's or Marks'.)

Yes, the numbers are very rough approximations; that's what you do when walking around. I also picked numbers that would be easy to divide in my head. Remember, I had to avoid Pokemon Go players who kept moving in unpredictable patterns in my path:

Walk in San Francisco, July 16, 2016

Edited (about 30 minutes after posting): During my walk I incorrectly computed the power as 1 MW instead of 10 MW, basically because keeping a lot of zeros in your head while avoiding the Pokemaniacs is difficult. The original post used that value; while rereading it after posting, I realized my order-of magnitude error and corrected it and the fuel calculation.