AskDefine | Define ramjet

Dictionary Definition

ramjet n : a simple type of jet engine; must be launched at high speed [syn: ramjet engine, atherodyde, athodyd, flying drainpipe]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A jet engine in which its forward motion forces air into its inlet compressing it (as opposed to having a pump type device compressing the air for combustion with fuel).

Related terms

Extensive Definition

A ramjet, sometimes referred to as a stovepipe jet, is a form of jet engine that contains no major moving parts. Unlike most other airbreathing jet engines, ramjets have no rotary compressor at the inlet, instead, the forward motion of the engine itself 'rams' the air through the engine. Ramjets therefore require forward motion through the air to produce thrust.
Ramjets can be particularly useful in applications requiring a small and simple engine for high speed use; such as missiles. They have also been used successfully, though not efficiently, as tip jets on helicopter rotors.
Ramjets require considerable forward speed to operate well, and as a class work most efficiently at speeds around Mach 3, and this type of jet can operate up to speeds of at least Mach 5.
Ramjets employ a continuous combustion process, but are frequently confused with pulsejets, which use an intermittent combustion, but these are a quite distinct type.


The idea of the ramjet (not to be confused with the Pulse jet engine of V-1 flying bomb fame, or with the Scramjet) was patented as early as 1908 by the French engineer René Lorin. In the Soviet Union, the GIRD-08 ramjet engine was built by Yuri Pobedonostsev and test fired in 1933. In France the works of René Leduc were notable, as was that of William Avery in the United States. Leduc's Model 010 was the first-ever ramjet-powered aircraft to fly, in 1949.


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 slowdown 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 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, as the air will choke at the inlet, but this is inefficient.


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 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.

Performance and control

Ramjets have been run from as low as 45 m/s (100 mph) 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.
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. This offers a lower cost approach than a regulated LFRJ requiring a turbopump and associated hardware to supply the fuel.
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, 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). 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.
Ramjets top speed is limited by disassociation to about Mach 5.5.

Related engines

Air turbo ramjet

Another example of this is the Air Turbo Ramjet (ATR) which operates as a conventional turbojet at subsonic speeds and a fan assisted ramjet at speeds below Mach 6.


Ramjets always slow the incoming air to a subsonic velocity within the combustor. Scramjets, or "supersonic combustion ramjet" are similar to ramjets, but the air goes through the entire engine at supersonic speeds, eliminating the creation of a strong shock wave in the intake. This increases the stagnation pressure recovered from the freestream and improves net thrust. Owing to the hypersonic (rather than supersonic) flight speeds experienced, scramjet air intake temperatures are too high for burning kerosene, so hydrogen is normally used as the fuel. 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).

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's then combusted 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 missile would have been highly radioactive.


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 100km 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.

Bussard ramjet

The Bussard ramjet is a space drive that fuses interstellar wind and exhausts it at high speed from the rear of the vehicle.


Aircraft using ramjets

ramjet in Czech: Náporový motor
ramjet in German: Staustrahltriebwerk
ramjet in Spanish: Estatorreactor
ramjet in Persian: رام‌جت
ramjet in French: Statoréacteur
ramjet in Irish: An Rop-Scairdinneall
ramjet in Korean: 램제트
ramjet in Italian: Statoreattore
ramjet in Hebrew: מנוע מגח סילון
ramjet in Dutch: Ramjet
ramjet in Polish: Silnik strumieniowy
ramjet in Portuguese: Ramjet
ramjet in Slovak: Náporový motor
ramjet in Finnish: Patoputkimoottori
ramjet in Turkish: Ramjet
ramjet in Chinese: 冲压发动机
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1