The Most Common Aircraft Propeller Types
Propellers are one of the two principal methods of producing thrust in aircraft. These devices, which have been found on aircraft since their advent, come in a variety of designs, each of which is chosen based on the application's performance requirements and weight. It is essential for anybody interested in aviation to have a basic understanding of the operating theory and design of the most common propeller types since these are installed on thousands of planes in service today. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about the three most common propeller types found on modern aircraft.
Fixed Pitch Propeller
Serving as the most straightforward and commonly used propeller type, fixed-pitch propellers are found in many light piston-engine aircraft to provide thrust. In aeronautics, pitch refers to the angle at which the propeller blades cut through the air. This angle affects how lift is generated and plays a significant role in lift generation and efficiency. In a fixed-pitch propeller, the pitch is set during manufacturing and cannot be changed thereafter. While they are less efficient during particular times of the flight, fixed-pitch propellers are generally cheaper and simpler to install. Furthermore, they may be further divided into their composition material, which is broadly categorized as metal or wooden.
Prior to World War II, wooden propellers predominated the civil aviation market due to their cheap cost and ease of production. Although their use declined with the widespread implementation of metallic propellers, wooden propellers may still be found in legacy aircraft from that time period. These propellers are unique in their manufacturing process because, unlike other wooden elements, they are not cut from a single piece of wood. Instead, they are made from several layers of separately cut wood molded together before being laminated, increasing the propeller's durability and performance.
The metal propeller predominates among aircraft produced after World War II, including those in use today. In the early days of this transition to metal, solid steel was used to create a design similar to that of the wooden predecessor, with a major difference of being thinner. As material technology continued to advance throughout the 20th century, aluminum alloys became ubiquitous in aircraft part production. These alloys account for the metal propellers in use today, which may be found on numerous civil and defense aircraft. Unlike wood, which was prone to degradation and warping after time or exposure to unfavorable temperatures, metal propellers maintain incredible durability while also remaining corrosion resistant.
Unlike the fixed-pitch design, ground-adjustable propellers allow the operator to set the pitch angle after installation and before a flight. These propellers feature a clamping mechanism that can be loosened to facilitate pitch change, but only when the device is not in motion. Although more advanced than fixed-pitch propellers, this design is still limited by its inability to be adjusted during flight, making them less common than other types.
The most significant jump in technology came from the advent of the variable-pitch propeller. This design enables pilots to change the pitch of the propeller during flight with a simple control in the cockpit. While fixed-pitch propellers perform optimally during takeoff and climb, the pitch angle becomes too low to deliver optimal efficiency once the plane levels off. This limitation cannot be overcome by changing the pitch during pre-flight operations as the increased angle may lead to stalls at slow speeds. As a result, variable-pitch propellers deliver the most efficiency because they can be adjusted to meet the varying conditions of the flight over time. Some models even feature the ability to feather in order to reduce drag and increase gliding resistance.
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