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What is afterburner?

Many jets, especially military jets, have afterburners. What are they exactly ? Here is our attempt at a definition to explain what it is and how it works. But also why they are used… The way afterburner works is by injecting kerosene in the turbo reactor of the jet engine. The gas then “burst” into flames producing heat and a huge flame, sometimes longer than the tail of the jet fighter. This is why afterburners are also called “reheat”. The gas reheated produces a very interesting reaction as it increases thrust. And this is the whole purpose of the afterburner: to benefit from a momentary increase in power.


What is it used for ? Mainly to add power to military jet fighters to reach supersonic speed, or to add thrust to take off from an aircraft carrier. Afterburner is used for a limited amount of time, usually no more than 10mn as it burns a lot of fuel – hence the jet fighter becomes then limited in flight time. But it also impacts the structure of the plane and unless designed for this, any jet fighter will suffer from a prolonged use of afterburners. Some jets, such as SR71 or even Concorde, have been designed to use afterburners for longer period of times. This is what gave Concorde its push to reach supersonic speed.


There are also some disadvantages of afterburners: fuel consumption, but also incredible noise and creating a huge infrared trail. Is the system efficient ? Yes. Usually it gives a boost of 20% to 50% (on a few planes) more, so it can be decisive to reach a specific speed or when taking off.

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