Power and headaches sometimes seem to be inter-twined. The more horsepower you tweak out of that giant big-block, the more maintenance and fiddling it seems to require. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, if Howard Murray gets his way, poker runners across North America will be able to go as fast as they please while reducing maintenance time by up to 90 percent.
Howard is the president of Firestorm Turbines, and no one sings the praises of turbine power like him. Turbines sound too good to be true – huge power, incredible reliability and one-tenth the maintenance of a typical V8. How do you beat that?
“The short answer is, you don’t,” quips Murray as we discuss turbine power over coffee one morning in Toronto, a few days after the 2005 Lake Ontario Hall of Fame Poker Run. “Turbines are beyond equal in terms of raw power, power-to-weight, and overall reliability. You get in your boat and drive 150 mph all day, every day, as much as you want without issues or breakdowns or down time of any sort. They’re the ultimate answer for anyone who enjoys driving their boat instead of fixing it.”
Turbo shaft turbine engines were developed for commercial aviation, and are widely used in helicopters and regional aircraft across the globe. Like a jet thrust engine, fuel and air mix in a combustion chamber, producing exhaust gasses that expand very rapidly. In a jet thrust engine, this expanding gas blows out the back of the engine, delivering power as direct thrust. In a turboshaft turbine engine, it spins an additional series of turbine wheels that are connected to a drive shaft and ultimately to your propeller in the water. Because of the continuous nature of combustion within the engine, turbines are able to produce enormous amounts of power for their comparatively small size and light weight.
“In aviation, weight is everything,” offers Murray, who began working on turbines ten years ago as an apprentice and then later a licenced Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. “That’s one reason turbines have replaced piston engines in so many types of aircraft. Our heaviest turbine engine generates 1,500 horsepower, yet weighs just 550 pounds. Put that up against 1,500 horsepower worth of piston engines and you’re looking at an enormous weight difference. A 1,500 horsepower diesel set-up could top 8,000 pounds. There’s just no comparison.”
Beyond that, turbines offer significantly improved reliability over piston engines. They’re designed from the start to run at high horsepower and continuous rpm for extended periods of time. Turbines have fewer moving parts than comparable piston engines, and those parts which do move rotate around a central core. This means minimal wear and minimal opportunity for component failure. This is why turbines are widely used as power supplies for electrical generation. These engines run at close to full power for months or even years at a time without shutting down.Try that with your piston engine boat and see how far you get.
Fewer moving parts also means far less maintenance than a comparable piston engine. Where a high performance V8 might require a complete tear-down and rebuild after 50 hours on the water, you don’t rebuild a turbine until it clocks nearly 3,000 hours of use. Even if you practically live on your boat, you measure that kind of lifespan in years, not hours. Little wonder the US Navy uses turbines as the primary source of power for its massive fleet of frigates and destroyers.
Firestorm Turbines deals mainly in marinized versions of the Lycoming T-53/T-55 family of engines. Murray notes that the Lycoming engines were initially designed for both aviation and marine use, and when the engines were in production Lycoming actually ran two different production lines side-byside. The main difference between the aviation and marine versions was that the marine engines were made from aluminum rather than magnesium, aluminum being less susceptible to corrosion in a salty, marine environment. There was a shorter production run of the marine engine, so today, they’re a bit harder to come by.
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