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Basic Propeller Principles (Part One)

by Flight Learnings

in Aerodynamics

The aircraft propeller consists of two or more blades and a central hub to which the blades are attached. Each blade of an aircraft propeller is essentially a rotating wing. As a result of their construction, the propeller blades are like airfoils and produce forces that create the thrust to pull, or push, the aircraft through the air. The engine furnishes the power needed to rotate the propeller blades through the air at high speeds, and the propeller transforms the rotary power of the engine into forward thrust.

A cross-section of a typical propeller blade is shown in Figure 4-35. This section or blade element is an airfoil comparable to a cross-section of an aircraft wing. One surface of the blade is cambered or curved, similar to the upper surface of an aircraft wing, while the other surface is flat like the bottom surface of a wing. The chord line is an imaginary line drawn through the blade from its leading edge to its trailing edge. As in a wing, the leading edge is the thick edge of the blade that meets the air as the propeller rotates.

Figure 4-35. Airfoil sections of propeller blade.

Figure 4-35. Airfoil sections of propeller blade.

Blade angle, usually measured in degrees, is the angle between the chord of the blade and the plane of rotation and is measured at a specific point along the length of the blade. [Figure 4-36] Because most propellers have a flat blade “face,” the chord line is often drawn along the face of the propeller blade. Pitch is not blade angle, but because pitch is largely determined by blade angle, the two terms are often used interchangeably. An increase or decrease in one is usually associated with an increase or decrease in the other.

Figure 4-36. Propeller blade angle.

Figure 4-36. Propeller blade angle.

The pitch of a propeller may be designated in inches. A propeller designated as a “74-48” would be 74 inches in length and have an effective pitch of 48 inches. The pitch is the distance in inches, which the propeller would screw through the air in one revolution if there were no slippage.

When specifying a fixed-pitch propeller for a new type of aircraft, the manufacturer usually selects one with a pitch that operates efficiently at the expected cruising speed of the aircraft. Every fixed-pitch propeller must be a compromise because it can be efficient at only a given combination of airspeed and revolutions per minute (rpm). Pilots cannot change this combination in flight.

When the aircraft is at rest on the ground with the engine operating, or moving slowly at the beginning of takeoff, the propeller efficiency is very low because the propeller is restrained from advancing with sufficient speed to permit its fixed-pitch blades to reach their full efficiency. In this situation, each propeller blade is turning through the air at an AOA that produces relatively little thrust for the amount of power required to turn it.

To understand the action of a propeller, consider first its motion, which is both rotational and forward. As shown by the vectors of propeller forces in Figure 4-36, each section of a propeller blade moves downward and forward. The angle at which this air (relative wind) strikes the propeller blade is its AOA. The air deflection produced by this angle causes the dynamic pressure at the engine side of the propeller blade to be greater than atmospheric pressure, thus creating thrust.

The shape of the blade also creates thrust because it is cambered like the airfoil shape of a wing. As the air flows past the propeller, the pressure on one side is less than that on the other. As in a wing, a reaction force is produced in the direction of the lesser pressure. The airflow over the wing has less pressure, and the force (lift) is upward. In the case of the propeller, which is mounted in a vertical instead of a horizontal plane, the area of decreased pressure is in front of the propeller, and the force (thrust) is in a forward direction. Aerodynamically, thrust is the result of the propeller shape and the AOA of the blade.

51UFncHi9pL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_Learn more about airplane aerodynamics with the Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics. This unique introductory guide, which sold more than 20,000 copies in its first edition, proves that the principles of flight can be easy to understand, even fascinating, to pilots and technicians who want to know how and why an aircraft behaves as it does.

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