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Is the APU a mini-jet engine, or some other type of motor? I know its purpose is to provide power when the engines are off, but what kind of motor/engine is used to generate the power?

I assume this differs from one type of aircraft to the other, but for the purposes of narrowing down the responses - I would like to know specifically about Boeing's APUs lets say on the 737NG.

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Since the only fuel available on an airliner is kerosene, the APU is a kerosene-powered jet. Using a different and maybe more efficient type of engine would require an independent fuel system, which does not make sense for the small savings possible.

From the 737.org page on APUs:

There are many different APUs available for the 737. The most common is the Garrett GTCP (Gas Turbine Compressor [air] Power unit [electrics]) 85-129. This was standard for the series 1/200 but when the -300 was introduced it was found that two to three times the energy was needed to start the larger CFM56 engines. Garrett produced the 85-129[E] which had a stretched compressor, ie the impellers were lengthened and the tip diameters increased. When the 737-400 was introduced, even more output was required and Garrett produced the 85-129[H]. This has an Electronic Temperature Control which limits hot section temperatures depending upon demand and ambient temperatures. By 1989 the 85-129[H] was the most standard APU in all 737 models, although there are actually 14 different models of the 85-129 in service with 737s.

To answer your question about the 737 NG, it continues:

Other APUs available are the Garrett GTCP 36-280(B) and the Sundstrand APS 2000 on the 3/4/500; and the Allied Signal GTCP 131-9B for the NGs. The main difference between them is that the Garrett is hydro-mechanical whereas Sundstrand and Allied Signal are FADEC controlled.

Be sure to load the 737.org page, it has lots of pictures and data on the APUs.

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  • $\begingroup$ You can modify a diesel engine to run on Jet-A. But I believe that a reciprocating engine would be heavier than the jet. $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2016 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak: Yes, and it would need an additional compressor. You get that part almost for free in a jet. The fuel economy would be better, however. $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2016 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak "I believe that a reciprocating engine would be heavier than the jet." Based on some of the diesel blocks I've seen, I could imagine one being heavier than a B737-NG! ;) $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Jan 28, 2016 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak: You don't need to modify the diesel engine; they run just fine on jet fuel as is. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Jun 12, 2019 at 1:21

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