What do you know about engines?


By: J. Reinoehl

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

The history of engines dates back millennia. Initially, engines were powered by humans and animals or clever arrangement of pulleys, weights, and gears. Many of these basic engines were for military purposes, such as catapults and trebuchets. During the industrial revolution, new forms of engines began to emerge, from the cotton gin ("gin" named from "engine) to the steam engine popularized by trains. While fuel-based engines were first developed in the late 18th century, it wasn't until 1872 when George Brayton produced the first commercial, liquid fuelled, internal combustion engine. And voila! That is the birth of what many of us know as the "modern" engine. 

Today, engines power everything from your lawnmower to rockets built for space travel. But, how much do you really know about engines? Do you know the difference between a Wankel or rotary engine? Or, do you know the disadvantages of a two-stroke internal combustion engine? Can you name an engine that isn't considered an internal combustion engine? 

Engines are a lot more complicated than the average person might think. So, does that mean you're up to the challenge? Does your knowledge of engines power a leaf blower or the next Mars-destined rocket? Test your knowledge of engines, and see where the world will take you!

What is the purpose of afterburners on jet engines?

Afterburners are generally equipped on military aircraft to increase thrust during combat situations, takeoff, and supersonic flight. They work by introducing additional fuel into the pipe after the turbines. Afterburners are only meant to be operated for short periods of time because they consume large amounts of fuel.


Another name for a gas turbine engine is?

A jet engine is also known as a gas turbine engine. As gas is burned, it creates an air flow that spins turbines to create thrust.


Which of the following two-stroke engines is water-cooled instead of air-cooled?

Outboard motors are for propelling boats through the water. They use the water to cool them instead of air.


Which of the following is not an electric motor?

The steam engine operates on combustion, not electricity. All of the others use small electric motors to convert electricity into mechanical power.


Hybrid cars use gas engines for what?

The gas engine in a hybrid car not only recharges the batteries but also improves acceleration and kicks in for higher speeds. The electric motor operates alone during lower speeds and slow acceleration.


Which engine uses fuel and an oxidizer to make up the propellant?

Rocket engines are internal combustion engines that work by expelling a gas that is the result of high-pressure combustion of propellants. The propellants must contain a fuel and the oxidizer (or grain) for that fuel.


What kind of fuel would power a two-stroke engine?

Because two-stroke engines are a simpler design, the oil must be mixed in with the fuel to lubricate the parts. The power-to-weight ratio in a two-stroke engine is often much higher. Two-stroke engines tend to be less efficient but lighter.


An internal combustion engine would be good for what?

A Diesel engine ignites the fluid inside the engine. Coal power plants, trains, and submarines are all heating the air or water outside of the engine to drive the piston.


Who is credited with inventing the first steam-powered submarine?

Robert Fulton was fascinated with steam engines and used one to power the first successful submarine, called the Nautilus, in the late 18th century. He went on to develop steam-powered torpedoes for Britain.


What is one definition of an engine?

An engine is a machine that converts energy, such as heat energy, into mechanical motion. The concept of an engine was first proposed in the 17th century.


Robert Sterling invented what kind of external combustion engine?

Robert Sterling invented the Stirling engine in 1816. It was an external combustion engine that used air instead of steam to move its pistons. The Sterling engine was safer (although prone to higher failure rates) and more efficient than steam engines of that era.


Which of the following is not a major type of electric motor?

Magnetic motors are used the most. Electrostatic motors operate based on electrical charge attraction and repulsion, and piezoelectric motors are based on the principals of electric charge that accumulate in certain materials and vibration frequencies. HAWT (Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine) is a wind turbine not an electric motor.


Which one is not an internal combustion engine?

Cold gas thrusters operate like a balloon with the air being released. They provide low performance but can be useful for making minor adjustments to a space shuttle's course.


An external combustion engine would be best used for powering what?

External combustion engines use heat to power the piston, but the fire does not have direct contact with the piston. Steam engines are one example of this.


A rotary engine would be best used in which vehicle?

The first successful rotary engine was designed in 1908. The design of the rotary engine aids in spinning propeller blades.


Generally, engines that run only on electricity are called what?

By definition, "engine" and "motor" both are used as machines that power other devices. However, "motor" is generally used when the power comes from electricity instead of combustion.


What is the primary disadvantage of two-stroke internal combustion engines?

The main disadvantage that two-stroke engines have is that they burn the oil mixed in with their fuel, which increases pollution. They are simpler, lighter, and more efficient than four-stroke engines.


What is “firing order?"

The firing order of an internal combustion engine gives the order each cylinder is sparked to ignite the fuel. It is created to reduce lost power through vibration and other engine shifting.


What was the name of the first passenger car that used an external combustion engine?

The Puffing Devil was invented by Richard Trevithick in 1801. The first one was left unattended and running by its operators, and it self-destructed. By 1803, Trevithick had improved his design, but the London Steam Carriage never became popular.


What is one thing an external combustion engine might use to move the piston?

External combustion engines use a working fluid, such as steam, to move the piston. The heat source is outside of the engine.


Which of the following is not a current hybrid engine combination?

Although biomass is used to generate electricity, as of yet there are no biomass-electric hybrids in mass production. Turbines, petroleum, and Diesel are all used in currently produced hybrid engine systems.


One type of piston-less internal combustion engine is called what?

The center of the Wankel engine (or rotor) rotates around a stationary gear inside the housing. The rotor is continuously moving in the same direction and driving the stationary gear forward.


What was the Naptha engine developed to power?

After several boiler accidents on steamboats, laws were enacted that required an engineer to be present on all steamboats. The Naptha engine, although equally dangerous, was developed so the owners of personal watercraft could get around this law.


Which of the following is not a type of internal combustion engine?

All of the types except the Stirling are internal combustion engines. Diesel engines do not use spark plugs. Rocket engines are specialized jet engines. Radial engines are used to rotate the propellers in airplanes.


Which of the following are types of two-stroke engines?

Although different oil delivery systems can cause variation between two-stroke engines, the main differences are based upon the gas inlet systems. Piston-controlled is the standard engine that uses the piston to control the intake.


A two-stroke engine would not work for which of the following?

Although highly efficient, two-stroke engines burn a lot of oil. In addition to paying for gas, you would need to purchase about a half-gallon of two-stroke oil for every tank of fuel.


A fan, compressors, combustion chamber, turbine, and nozzle are parts of which engine?

Although all internal combustion engines contain combustion chambers, turbines are unique to the turbojet. Jet engines pass air or water in the opposite direction of the desired motion using Newton's third law of motion.


What happens during the power phase of the four-stroke internal combustion engine cycle?

During the power phase in a four-stroke internal combustion engine, the piston moves downward after the gas in the chamber is ignited. The explosion creates the power that drives the piston through the rest of the cycle.


Which internal combustion engine is also called a "star" engine?

The radial configuration is generally five pistons radiating out from a central point (the crankshaft). When viewed from the front, it resembles a star of sorts, and that is how it got its name.


What is the purpose of a nozzle on a rocket engine?

Nozzles on rocket engines allow the hot gasses to escape but accelerate the speed of the exhaust. Half of a rocket's thrust comes from the pressure created by the nozzle.


What was the Stanley Steamer?

The Stanley Motor Carriage Company produced steam vehicles in the early 20th century. It was founded by twins, Francis E. Stanley and Freelan O. Stanley. Francis died in 1918 in an automobile accident while trying to avoid two farm wagons and the company was sold.


What shape is the rotor on a Wankel engine?

The Reuleaux triangle is based on an equilateral triangle with bulging sides that create a constant curve. The Wankel engine uses sides that are slightly flatter than an official Reuleaux triangle.


What is the difference between the Rankine cycle and the Otto cycle?

The Otto cycle is used to ideally describe a situation where the working gas remains a gas constantly such as in spark-ignition systems. The Rankine cycle is the ideal in situations where the working fluid changes between gas and liquid states.


Rotary and radial engines are both used in older propeller airplanes, but what is the difference between the two?

A rotary engine rotates around a central, fixed shaft. It is for this reason Wankel engines are also called rotary engines, even though this term traditionally was applied to engines that spin, or rotate, with an airplane propeller.


What is a disadvantage of a Wankel engine?

Although running the engine at a constant speed overcomes fuel consumption issues, under normal operating conditions it consumes more fuel than what should be ideal. Linked to its poor fuel economy is also poor emission quality.


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