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Simple ramjet operation, with Mach numbers of flow shown
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Aircraft propulsion

Shaft engines (to drive propellers, rotors, ducted fans, or propfans):

Reaction engines:

A ramjet, sometimes referred to as a stovepipe jet, or an athodyd, is a form of jet engine using the engine's forward motion to compress incoming air, without a rotary compressor. Ramjets cannot produce thrust at zero airspeed and thus cannot move an aircraft from a standstill.

Ramjets require considerable forward speed to operate well, and as a class work most efficiently at speeds around Mach 3. This type of jet can operate up to speeds of at least Mach 5.

Ramjets can be particularly useful in applications requiring a small and simple engine for high speed use; such as missiles, while weapon designers are looking to use ramjet technology in artillery shells to give added range; it is anticipated that a 120-mm mortar shell, if assisted by a ramjet, could attain a range of 22 mi (35 km).[1]. They have also been used successfully, though not efficiently, as tip jets on helicopter rotors.[2]

Ramjets are frequently confused with pulsejets, which use an intermittent combustion, but ramjets employ a continuous combustion process, and are a quite distinct type of jet engine.



Albert Fonó's ramjet-cannonball from 1915

René Lorin

The ramjet was invented in 1913 by French inventor René Lorin, who was granted a patent for his device. Attempts to build a prototype failed due to inadequate materials.[3]

Albert Fonó

In 1915 Hungarian inventor Albert Fonó devised a solution for increasing the range of artillery, comprising a gun-launched projectile which was to be united with a ramjet propulsion unit, thus giving a long range from relatively low muzzle velocities, allowing heavy shells to be fired from relatively lightweight guns. Fonó submitted his invention to the Austro-Hungarian Army but the proposal was rejected.[4] After World War I Fonó returned to the subject of jet propulsion, in May 1928 describing an "air-jet engine" which he described as being suitable for high-altitude supersonic aircraft, in a German patent application. In an additional patent application he adapted the engine for subsonic speed. The patent was finally granted in 1932 after four years of examination (German Patent No. 554,906, 1932-11-02).[5]

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, a theory of supersonic ramjet engines was presented in 1928 by Boris S. Stechkin. Yuri Pobedonostsev, chief of GIRD's 3rd Brigade, carried out a great deal of research into ramjet engines. The first engine, the GIRD-04, was designed by I.A. Merkulov and tested in April 1933. To simulate supersonic flight, it was fed by air compressed to 200 atmospheres, and was fueled with hydrogen. The GIRD-08 phosphorus-fueled ramjet was tested by firing it from an artillery cannon. These shells may have been the first jet powered projectiles to break the speed of sound.

In 1939, Merkulov did further ramjet tests using a two-stage rocket, the R-3. In August of that year, he developed the first ramjet engine for use as an auxiliary motor of an aircraft, the DM-1. The world's first ramjet powered airplane flight took place in December 1939, using two DM-2 engines on a modified Polikarpov I-15. Merkulov designed a ramjet fighter "Samolet D" in 1941, which was never completed. Two of his DM-4 engines were installed on the YaK-7PVRD fighter, during World War II. In 1940, the Kostikov-302 experimental plane was designed, powered by liquid fuel rocket for take-off and ramjet engines for flight. That project was cancelled in 1944.

In 1947, Mstislav Keldysh proposed a long-range antipodal bomber, similar to the Sänger-Bredt bomber, but powered by ramjet instead of rocket. In 1954, NPO Lavochkin and the Keldysh Institute began development of a trisonic ramjet-powered cruise missile, Burya. This project competed with the R-7 ICBM being developed by Sergei Korolev, and was cancelled in 1957.


In 1936 Hellmuth Walter constructed a test engine powered by natural gas. Theoretical work was carried out at BMW and Junkers as well as the DFL. In 1941 Eugen Sänger of the DFL proposed a ramjet engine with a very high combustion chamber temperature. He constructed very large ramjet pipes with 500 millimetres (20 in) and 1,000 millimetres (39 in) diameter and carried out combustion tests on lorries and on a special test rig on a Dornier Do 17Z at flight speeds of up to 200 m/s (655 ft/s). Later, with petrol becoming scarce in Germany due to wartime conditions, tests were carried out with blocks of pressed coal dust which were not successful due to slow combustion.[6]


Leduc 022
Nord Aviation 1500 Griffon II

In France the works of René Leduc were notable. Leduc's Model, the Leduc 0.10 was one of the first ramjet-powered aircraft to fly, in 1949.

The Nord 1500 Griffon reached Mach 2.19 in 1958.


A typical ramjet

A ramjet is designed around its inlet. An object moving at high speed through air generates a high pressure region in front and a low pressure region to the rear. A ramjet uses this high pressure in front of the engine to force air through the tube, where it is heated by combusting some of it with fuel. It is then passed through a nozzle to accelerate it to supersonic speeds. This acceleration gives the ramjet forward thrust.

A ramjet is sometimes referred to as a 'flying stovepipe', a very simple device comprising an air intake, a combustor, and a nozzle. Normally the only moving parts are those within the turbopump, which pumps the fuel to the combustor in a liquid-fuel ramjet. Solid-fuel ramjets are even simpler.

By way of contrast, a turbojet uses a gas turbine driven fan to compress the air further. This gives greater efficiency and far more power at low speeds, where the ram effect is weak, but is also more complex, heavier and more expensive, and the temperature limits of the turbine section limits the top speed and thrust at high speed.


Ramjets try to exploit the very high dynamic pressure within the air approaching the intake lip. An efficient intake will recover much of the freestream stagnation pressure, which is used to support the combustion and expansion process in the nozzle.

Most ramjets operate at supersonic flight speeds and use one or more conical (or oblique) shock waves, terminated by a strong normal shock, to slow down the airflow to a subsonic velocity at the exit of the intake. Further diffusion is then required to get the air velocity down to level suitable for the combustor.

Subsonic intakes on ramjets are relatively simple

Subsonic ramjets don't need such a sophisticated inlet since the airflow is already subsonic and a simple hole is usually used. This would also work at slightly supersonic speeds, but as the air will choke at the inlet, this is inefficient.

The Inlet is divergent, to provide a constant inlet speed of Mach 0.5


As with other jet engines the combustors job is to create hot air. It does this by burning a fuel with the air at essentially constant pressure. The airflow through the jet engine is usually quite high, so sheltered combustion zones are produced by using flame holders that stop the flames blowing out.

Since there is no downstream turbine, a ramjet combustor can safely operate at stoichiometric fuel:air ratios, which implies a combustor exit stagnation temperature of the order of 2400 K for kerosene. Normally the combustor must be capable of operating over a wide range of throttle settings, for a range of flight speeds/altitudes. Usually a sheltered pilot region enables combustion to continue when the vehicle intake undergoes high yaw/pitch, during turns. Other flame stabilization techniques make use of flame holders, which vary in design from combustor cans to simple flat plates, to shelter the flame and improve fuel mixing. Overfuelling the combustor can cause the normal shock within a supersonic intake system to be pushed forward beyond the intake lip, resulting in a substantial drop in engine airflow and net thrust.


The propelling nozzle is a critical part of a ramjet design, since it accelerates exhaust flow to produce thrust.

For a ramjet operating at a subsonic flight Mach number, exhaust flow is accelerated through a converging nozzle. For a supersonic flight Mach number, acceleration is typically achieved via a convergent-divergent nozzle.

One of the two Bristol Thor ramjet engines on a Bristol Bloodhound missile

Performance and control

Ramjets have been run from as low as 45 m/s (100 mph)[7] upwards. Below about Mach 0.5 they give little thrust and are highly inefficient due to their low pressure ratios.

Above this speed, given sufficient initial flight velocity, a ramjet will be self-sustaining. Indeed, unless the vehicle drag is extremely high, the engine/airframe combination will tend to accelerate to higher and higher flight speeds, substantially increasing the air intake temperature. As this could have a detrimental effect on the integrity of the engine and/or airframe, the fuel control system must reduce engine fuel flow to stabilize the flight Mach number and, thereby, air intake temperature to sensible levels.

Due to the stoichiometric combustion temperature, efficiency is usually good at high speeds (Mach 2-3), whereas at low speeds the relatively poor compression ratio means that ramjets are outperformed by turbojets or even rockets.

Ramjet Types

Ramjets can be classified according to the type of fuel, liquid or solid; and the booster.[8]

In a liquid fuel ramjet (LFRJ) hydrocarbon fuel (typically) is injected into the combustor ahead of a flameholder which stabilises the flame resulting from the combustion of the fuel with the compressed air from the intake(s). A means of pressurising and supplying the fuel to the ramcombustor is required which can be complicated and expensive. Aerospatiale-Celerg have designed an LFRJ where the fuel is forced into the injectors by an elastomer bladder which inflates progressively along the length of the fuel tank. Initially the bladder forms a close-fitting sheath around the compressed air bottle from which it is inflated, which is mounted lengthwise in the tank.[9] This offers a lower cost approach than a regulated LFRJ requiring a turbopump and associated hardware to supply the fuel.[10]

A ramjet generates no static thrust and needs a booster to achieve a forward velocity high enough for efficient operation of the intake system. The first ramjet powered missiles used external boosters, usually solid-propellant rockets, either in tandem, where the booster is mounted immediately aft of the ramjet, e.g. Sea Dart, or wraparound where multiple boosters are attached alongside the outside of the ramjet e.g. SA-4 Ganef. The choice of booster arrangement is usually driven by the size of the launch platform. A tandem booster increases the overall length of the system whereas wraparound boosters increase the overall diameter. Wraparound boosters will usually generate higher drag than a tandem arrangement.

Integrated boosters provide a more efficient packaging option since the booster propellant is cast inside the otherwise empty combustor. This approach has been used on solid, for example SA-6 Gainful, liquid, for example ASMP, and ducted rocket, for example Meteor, designs. Integrated designs are complicated by the different nozzle requirements of the boost and ramjet phases of flight. Due to the higher thrust levels of the booster a different shaped nozzle is required for optimum thrust compared to that required for the lower thrust ramjet sustainer. This is usually achieved via a separate nozzle which is ejected after booster burnout. However, designs such as Meteor feature nozzleless boosters. This offers the advantages of elimination of the hazard to launch aircraft from the ejected boost nozzle debris, simplicity, reliability, and reduced mass and cost[11], although this must be traded against the reduction in performance compared with that provided by a dedicated booster nozzle.

Integral rocket ramjet/ducted rocket

These are a slight variation on the ramjet where the supersonic exhaust from a rocket combustion process is used to compress and react with the incoming air in the main combustion chamber. This has the advantage of giving thrust even at zero speed.

In a solid fuel integrated rocket ramjet (SFIRR) the solid fuel is cast along the outer wall of the ramcombustor. In this case fuel injection is through ablation of the propellant by the hot compressed air from the intake(s). An aft mixer may be used to improve combustion efficiency. SFIRRs are preferred over LFRJs for some applications because of the simplicity of the fuel supply but only when the throttling requirements are minimal i.e. when variations in altitude or Mach number are limited.

In a ducted rocket a solid fuel gas generator produces a hot fuel-rich gas which is burnt in the ramcombustor with the compressed air supplied by the intake(s). The flow of gas improves the mixing of the fuel and air and increases total pressure recovery. In a Throttleable Ducted Rocket (TDR), also known as a Variable Flow Ducted Rocket (VFDR), a valve allows the gas generator exhaust to be throttled allowing control of the thrust. Unlike an LFRJ solid propellant ramjets cannot flameout. The ducted rocket sits somewhere between the simplicity of the SFRJ and the unlimited throttleability of the LFRJ.

Flight speed

Ramjets generally give little or no thrust below about half the speed of sound, and they are inefficient (less than 600 seconds) until the airspeed exceeds 1000 km/h (600 mph) due to low compression ratios. Even above the minimum speed a wide flight envelope (range of flight conditions), such as low to high speeds and low to high altitudes, can force significant design compromises, and they tend to work best optimised for one designed speed and altitude (point designs). However, ramjets generally outperform gas turbine based jet engine designs and work best at supersonic speeds (Mach 2-4)[12]. Although inefficient at slower speeds they are more fuel-efficient than rockets over their entire useful working range up to at least Mach 5.5.

The performance of conventional ramjets falls off above Mach 6 due to dissociation and pressure loss caused by shock as the incoming air is slowed to subsonic velocities for combustion. In addition, the combustion chamber's inlet temperature increases to very high values, approaching the dissociation limit at some limiting Mach number.

Related engines

Air turboramjet

Another example of this is the Air TurboRamjet (ATR) which has a compressor powered by a gas heated via a heat exchanger within the combustion chamber.


Ramjets always slow the incoming air to a subsonic velocity within the combustor. Scramjets, or "supersonic combustion ramjet" are similar to ramjets, but some of the air goes through the entire engine at supersonic speeds. This increases the stagnation pressure recovered from the freestream and improves net thrust. Thermal choking of the exhaust is avoided by having a relatively high supersonic air velocity at combustor entry. Fuel injection is often into a sheltered region below a step in the combustor wall. Although scramjet engines have been studied for many decades it is only recently that small experimental units have been flight tested and then only very briefly (e.g. the Boeing X-43).[13]

In the scramjet, the ram air is not slowed to subsonic speeds for combustion and as a result, shocks are not encountered and pressure loss is avoided.[14]

Precooled engines

A variant of the pure ramjet is the 'combined cycle' engine, intended to overcome the limitations of the pure ramjet. One example of this is the SABRE engine; this uses a precooler, behind which is ramjet and turbine machinery.

The ATREX engine developed in Japan is an experimental implementation of this concept. It uses liquid hydrogen fuel in a fairly exotic single-fan arrangement. The liquid hydrogen fuel is pumped through a heat exchanger in the air-intake, simultaneously heating the liquid hydrogen, and cooling the incoming air. This cooling of the incoming air is critical to achieving a reasonable efficiency. The hydrogen then continues through a second heat exchanger position after the combustion section, where the hot exhaust is used to further heat the hydrogen, turning it into a very high pressure gas. This gas is then passed through the tips of the fan providing driving power to the fan at sub-sonic speeds. After mixing with the air it is burned in the combustion chamber.

Nuclear powered ramjets

During the Cold War the United States designed and ground-tested a nuclear-powered ramjet called Project Pluto. This system used no combustion - a nuclear reactor heated the air instead. The project was ultimately canceled because ICBMs seemed to serve the purpose better, and because a low-flying radioactive missile could cause problems for any allied soldiers.


The SR-71's Pratt & Whitney J58 engines act as turbojet-assisted ramjets at high-speeds (Mach 3.2).

Ionospheric ramjet

The upper atmosphere above about 100 km contains monatomic oxygen that has been produced by the sun through photochemistry. A concept was created by NASA for recombining this thin gas back to diatomic molecules at orbital speeds to power a ramjet.[15]

Bussard ramjet

The Bussard ramjet is a space drive concept that is intended to fuse interstellar wind and exhaust it at high speed from the rear of the vehicle.

See also


  1. ^ McNab, Chris; Hunter Keeter (2008). Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs. Osprey Publishing. p. 145. ISBN 1846032253.  
  2. ^ "Here Comes the Flying Stovepipe". TIME.,9171,834721,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-09.  
  3. ^ Zucker, Robert D.; Oscar Biblarz (2002). Fundamentals of gas dynamics. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0471059676.  
  4. ^ *Gyorgy, Nagy Istvan (1977), "Albert Fono: A Pioneer of Jet Propulsion", International Astronautical Congress, 1977, IAF/IAA,  
  5. ^ Dugger, Gordon L. (1969). Ramjets. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. pp. 15.  
  6. ^ Hirschel, Ernst-Heinrich; Horst Prem, Gero Madelung (2004). Aeronautical Research in Germany. Springer. pp. 242–243. ISBN 354040645X.  
  8. ^ "A Century of Ramjet Propulsion Technology Evolution", AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol.20, No.1, January - February 2004
  9. ^ "Aerospatiale studies low-cost ramjet", Flight International, 13 - 19 December 1995
  10. ^ "Hughes homes in on missile pact", Flight International, 11 - 17 September 1996
  11. ^ Procinsky, I.M., McHale, C.A., "Nozzleless Boosters for Integral-Rocket-Ramjet Missile Systems, Paper 80-1277, AIAA/SAE/ASME 16th Joint Propulsion Conference, 30th June to 2nd July 1980
  12. ^ 11.6 Performance of Jet Engines
  13. ^ "Boeing: History -- Chronology 2002-2004"
  14. ^ Eshbach, Ovid Wallace; Byron D. Tapley (1989). Eshbach's Handbook of Engineering Fundamentals. Wiley-IEEE. pp. 24. ISBN 0471890847.  

Aircraft using ramjets

Missiles using ramjets

External links


Up to date as of January 23, 2010
(Redirected to Jet Propulsion/Ramjet article)

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

< Jet Propulsion


A ramjet uses the open Brayton cycle. In the above diagram a 2D supersonic intake is shown downstream of which is a divergent subsonic diffuser.

Ramjets are inefficient at subsonic speeds and their efficiency improves at supersonic speeds.

At hypersonic speeds the compression and dissociation processes make full diffusion unattractive and supersonic combustion is being researched. Scramjet slow the air down to low supersonic speeds and then burn high flame velocity fuels such as hydrogen or methane to try to get net thrust.

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