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Need for Speed: A close look at the Art of the Afterburner

What’s faster than a jet engine?

Turbine engines are notoriously capable of achieving incredible speeds. But shortly after their initial development, a novel idea was born… Dump raw jet fuel straight into the exhaust of a jet engine.

A phenomenal mixture of combusting fuel and hot gasses roaring out the back of the engine…

CORAL SEA (July 16, 2019) An EA-18G Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 launches from the flight deck aboard the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan is participating in Talisman Sabre 2019, which illustrates the closeness of the Australian and U.S. alliance and the strength of the military-to-military relationship. It is the eighth iteration of this exercise. Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Janweb B. Lagazo)

Rather than fueling the engine once, when the incoming air is at its most compressed, engines fitted with afterburners also known as “reheat,” inject fuel twice. The result is a phenomenal mixture of combusting fuel and hot gasses roaring out the back of the engine, thrusting it and everything to it forward with incredible energy.

An F-15E Strike Eagle rockets out of RAF Lakenheath on a mission over Europe.

Recon drones and commercial aircraft generally don’t require the acceleration provided by afterburners

Future of Afterburners

While some rapidly advancing areas of aviation, especially drone and eco-friendly initiatives, are making great strides with the need for afterburners, they are solidly here to stay. Recon drones and commercial aircraft generally don’t require the acceleration provided by afterburners, but it is absolutely essential for modern fighter jets.

Pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings taxi F-35As on the runway in preparation for a combat power exercise Nov. 19, 2018, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. During the exercise wings confirmed their ability to employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets, demonstrating the readiness and lethality of the F-35 Lightning II. As the first combat-ready F-35 units in the Air Force, the 388th and 419th FWs are ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Justin Fuchs)
F-35s lined up for a Show of Force exercise, testing ability of aircrews to assemble and support a large rapid response force.

The F-35 Lightning II, the latest fighter jet to join the US Military inventory, is equipped with an afterburning engine capable of producing 43,000 lbf of thrust.

More Beautiful Afterburners