How does a jet engine work in the rain?

A jet engine is a type of reaction engine discharging a fast-moving jet that generates thrust by jet propulsion. While this broad definition can include rocket, water jet, and hybrid propulsion, the term jet engine typically refers to an internal combustion airbreathing jet engine such as a turbojet, turbofan, ramjet, or pulse jet. In general, jet engines are internal combustion engines.

Jet engines operate by igniting a mixture of air and fuel and using the resulting gases to produce thrust. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that moisture can have an adverse effect on an engine’s combustion process. So what exactly happens to jet engines in inclement weather? While jet engines are not totally immune to the elements, there are many features protecting jet engines from experiencing difficulties. Flameouts are the biggest threats caused by moisture such as  rain and ice. In its most basic definition, a flameout is the loss of engine power due to factors unrelated to mechanical failure. A flameout can be caused by the loss of fuel, air, or heat. While flameouts must be taken seriously, they are exceedingly rare and can be fixed mid-flight.

In addition to flameouts being extremely rare, it is highly unusual that moisture is the cause. Although rain is capable of hindering the function of a jet engine, it is rarely a noticeable effect. The majority of storms do not create enough rain or snow to disturb the engines, and the ice crystals that clouds are made of are far too small to affect function. The extreme heat of the combustion chamber provides its own defense mechanism, evaporating these minute levels of moisture almost immediately. Only very significant storms could strain a jet engine, and in those cases it is very likely that an aircraft will take a detour and circumvent the storm altogether.
Significant moisture like large hail, ice, and freezing rain are the toughest to deal with. Large hail is capable of damaging the engine or aircraft’s skin, but as it is only prevalent in large storms, it is easily avoided with a flight detour. Freezing rain is problematic since it can cause ice buildup on the engine inlet, the duct responsible for smooth airflow from all directions into the engine. If ice is able to build up, large chunks can separate and enter the engine, thereby hindering the combustion process and leading to flameout.
Each aircraft is built with a myriad of safety features that deal specifically with inclement weather and the prevention of flameouts. Engines are equipped with intricate heating systems that control the temperature of areas where ice is more likely to appear. In addition to this, the center of the engine is spotted with bits of rubber that vibrate to shake off ice that has accumulated. Igniters are a safety feature in the combustion chamber that re-ignite the mixture of fuel and air to restart the engine. They operate very similarly to spark plugs in an automobile. Standard igniters are usually turned on manually, but certain new aircraft have sensors which will start them automatically as the combustion process begins to struggle. Igniters have been utilized in a few cases to restart engines that have flamed out allowing aircraft to continue safely to their desired locations.  
The safety of jet engines and flight in general cannot be overstated. To learn more about jet engines and their parts, come visit our Jet Parts 360 website. There you will find our vast inventory of NSN parts, FSC parts, and CAGE Codes. We also welcome you to contact us by phone at +1-714-705-4780 or email at


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